Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Tuesday Night Hodgepodge

Today’s going to be another non-traditional update, due to a variety of reasons, which will become clear in my bullet points. The venues for last night’s game watching were the semi-new Brothers tavern on Water Street in downtown Milwaukee (for the Wisconsin-Wake Forest game), and later in the evening, my living room chair (for everything else). Here’s my night of basketball:

1) On Monday night my friend Brian called me looking to see if I wanted to go to a game somewhere last night. Since I saw no high school games of note going on, I had already told some friends that I would meet up with them to watch the Wisconsin game at a bar. Much to my dismay, in the voice message that Brian left for me, he noted that Lawrence, probably my favorite division 3 college team to watch, was playing at Wisconsin Lutheran College, a mere 5 minute drive from my apartment. I could kick myself for missing this point, and definitely would have gone to the game and DVR’d the Wisconsin game had I not told my friends I’d be meeting up with them. I’ve got to start paying more attention to these things.

2) There are positives and negatives to watching a game at the aforementioned Brothers, and last night I think the negatives outweighed the positives. The location was chosen based on its nightly happy hour special of 2-1 on pretty much any beverage until 7pm. Surely a great deal, and the service was generally pretty good, too. However, there were other problems with Brothers that mitigated the savings and service. First, my friend Adam ordered nachos, only to be informed after a brief wait that the bar was out of nachos. A bar that’s out of nachos? Isn’t that sort of like Walgreens being out of cold medicine? Simply unacceptable.

Of course the thing that made me more bitter was having to change seats in order to see the game. Early in the game, I met up with my friends Adam and Ferd, who had snagged a prime spot at the bar in front of a TV with the Wisconsin-Wake Forest game on. We watched the first half of the game, and by halftime had about six of us there. Near the end of halftime, though, the TV was switched to the Milwaukee Bucks game. It would seem that the three people to my left who had entered the bar shortly after me had requested the change, since they were the only ones who protested when we asked to put the Wisconsin game back on. Since there were only two TVs at the bar, we were displaced, despite having a great spot in the first half. Fortunately, there’s not much reason to be in Brothers after the happy hour special cuts out at 7pm, so there was plenty of space to move to in range of the other TV. In the grand scheme of things, not a big deal, but it’s still pretty annoying to be pushed out of a prime viewing location by people who show up later than you. It’s especially annoying when those people pay virtually no attention to the Bucks game and leave before the end of the first quarter.

Can you tell that’s been bugging me?

3) I should have a pretty good breakdown of the Wisconsin-Wake Forest game, right? Sadly, I don’t. Watching a game at a bar is a double-edged sword. On one hand, a tavern is conducive to socializing, and socializing is one of the reasons that I watch basketball to begin with. On the other hand, I do like to actually see the games, and at the bar, sometimes conversations about Yinka Dare’s NBA assist totals tend to obscure the fact that there’s an actual game going on. So yeah, I caught about 60% of the game. It was enough to tell you that Alando Tucker did something to his face to warrant wearing a protective mask, Ray Nixon looked absolutely foolish guarding Justin Gray, and Jason Chappell does a great job of selling to the refs the idea that he’s getting abused whenever he has contact with another player.

4) Last night while watching Brian Butch repeatedly can mid-range jumpers, it occurred to me that he and Marquette’s Steve Novak should be compared, since both are big men with a nice shooting touch. I feel the best way to compare the two is in video game form. For instance, if you’re creating the video game Novak, you’re powering him up to 98 (out of 100) on the category entitled “Shooting.” You’re leaving him at about 24 apiece for categories like “Quickness” and “Post Play.” With Butch, you’re maybe only powering him up to 81 on the “Shooting” category, and dumping those extra 17 points onto the other categories. I guess this is a roundabout way of saying that Butch’s shot, while nice, doesn’t begin to touch Novak’s, but his defensive and interior game is slightly better than Novak’s.

Not sure where I was going with that, other than the video game analogy just popped into my head last night and seemed wickedly accurate. Of course, I could be way off, since I haven’t actually purchased a new video game system since about 1993.

5) Okay, I saw Jason Chappell's father Len in the stands during a crowd shot. Let's just say, I've been way too hard on Jason over the years for his seemingly ambivalent-to-life facial expressions. When they first showed Len Chappell on screen, I honestly thought that he was asleep. Then he moved a bit, and went back to looking like he was asleep again. So it's official--Jason Chappell cares, but due to genetics, he just looks really, really laid back.

6) My exact words about Wake Forest-Wisconsin from yesterday: “I’m picking most legit teams to beat Wisconsin at this point in the season, but Wake’s thin at guard, the place where most legit teams would beat Wisconsin. If it comes down to the frontcourt, I’m giving this one to the Badgers.”

Yeah, Wake’s thin at guard. Like that guy who dropped 37 on the Badgers. If you needed any proof that sometimes I don’t know what I’m talking about, here it is.

7) Post-tavern I returned home to watch as much of the North Carolina-Illinois game as I could. There’s a lot that was significant about this game on a national level. After all, even though there has been tremendous turnover on each roster, this is a rematch of the 2005 national championship game. However, more significant to me is the fact that this is the first college basketball game that I was able to see on my home television in high definition. Let’s just say, I nearly wept with joy. Football season’s been okay, but back in July when I put myself into perpetual debt for the sake of home entertainment, this was why I did it. The Smith Center looked brilliant last night.

8) Oh yeah, that roster turnover—that’s not going to be much of a problem for North Carolina or Illinois. UNC certainly doesn’t have the talent that they’ve had over the past few years, but with the talent that the Heels are bringing in next year, and the fact that the talent level of this year’s freshmen is such that early exits to the NBA may be kept to a minimum, this will be a very dangerous team in coming years. Very dangerous.

9) I only caught some of it, but I must admit a certain amount of surprise that Michigan beat up on Miami like they did. Even more surprising was that it was a true team effort, with even Graham Brown playing well. I’m not holding my breath for a huge year out of Michigan, but one never knows after a game like this…

10) Nike, why do you hurt me like this? Last night I was subjected to North Carolina, Illinois, and Michigan wearing ugly jerseys with off-colored patches on the shoulders. The last time that jerseys like this were broken out it was in the mid-1990s when Duke added some flair to the shoulders of its uniforms. Note that these uniforms came during Duke’s strange pair of down years in the mid-1990s. Coincidence? Perhaps, but I still can’t believe that anyone would ruin a great classic-looking uniform like North Carolina’s.

11) The evening closed with me watching UCLA in a surprisingly close game against Albany, before realizing what I was watching, and deciding to finally go to sleep.

More enjoyment of the Big Ten-ACC challenge tonight, but likely with more analysis, since I’m actually staying in to watch the game tonight.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Big Ten-ACC Challenge Predictions

Well, today I’d love to be giving you a recap of the UWM-Tennesee Tech game, since I feel like I haven’t been giving UWM any love lately, and there wasn’t a ton going on in the basketball world last night. Unfortunately, the game was only on the radio last night, and I had other plans. So no game recap, though I see that UWM lost a tight one. Fret not, though, Panther fans, since early season perceptions of our Wisconsin based teams are still skewed a bit, and the Panthers aren’t as far off from being Wisconsin’s best team as you’d think. The results will come in time.

Of course, since I have nothing to say about UWM, I have to go the uncreative route and make my Big Ten-ACC challenge predictions. As usual, I’d like to do it with a twist, and rather than make in depth predictions (which would be impossible given that both leagues have had so much player turnover during the offseason and I honestly don’t know much about most of the teams), I’m going rapid fire. So here’s each of the 11 games and my predictions, with one legitimate reason for each prediction, and one completely irrelevant reason:

Ohio State over Virginia Tech

Legit Reason: Thad Matta’s got the Buckeyes headed in the right direction, even if he doesn’t have his stud recruits on campus yet.

Irrelevant Reason: Ohio State won already. (For the record, I would have picked OSU anyway, even though I loved Virginia Tech the one time I visited the campus.)

Wisconsin over Wake Forest

Legit Reason: I’m picking most legit teams to beat Wisconsin at this point in the season, but Wake’s thin at guard, the place where most legit teams would beat Wisconsin. If it comes down to the frontcourt, I’m giving this one to the Badgers.

Irrelevant Reason: I’m a tremendous homer.

Clemson over Penn State

Legit Reason: Penn State’s roster is totally devoid of talent, and while I haven’t been that up to date on Clemson since I had Clemson back-up center Woni Mohammad as a player on my ACC fantasy team when I was a freshman in college, they’ve got to have more going for them than Penn State.

Irrelevant Reason: My cousin went to Clemson, and though she was rooting for Penn State when they played my alma mater in football a few weeks back, I still like her, and want this win for her school.

Illinois over North Carolina

Legit Reason: Despite both of these teams losing tons of talent, neither is going to be in as much trouble as people expect this year. Of course, that doesn’t erase the fact that Illinois simply lost less talent than UNC, so they’ve got the edge right away.

Irrelevant Reason: Come on, you’ve seen Bruce Weber in the orange blazer. How can you deny that?

Miami over Michigan

Legit Reason: If you’re asking me to choose between Miami coach Frank Haith and Michigan coach Tommy Amacker, I’m thinking about it for roughly 3 seconds and then taking Haith. He had a hell of a year last season.

Irrelevant Reason: Back in my teen years I always got a chuckle out of watching Miami center Constantine Popa. Definitely a more humorous history than the Fab Five.

Michigan State over Georgia Tech

Legit Reason: Michigan State and Duke are both far and away the best teams in this conference showdown. Georgia Tech’s got five new starters. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this one out.

Irrelevant Reason: I’ve met a handful of very cool Michigan State alums over the years, and I’d like it if they had the joy of winning this game.

Minnesota over Maryland

Legit Reason: I don’t know if I really have one, but every event like this needs an upset, and this looks like it could be it to me. Maryland’s probably the better team, though.

Irrelevant Reason: Remember my inverse Dan Monson theory–he only does well when he doesn’t have enough talent. Given that the Gophers are clearly overmatched on paper by the Terps, based on the theory, Minnesota should win.

Northwestern over Virginia

Legit Reason: In a game with two lesser teams, I’ve got to take the one with the best player, and that’s Vedran Vukusic. I know I said I wouldn't get suckered by the talents of Vukusic and coach Carmody again, but I feel I have to just for this one game.

Irrelevant Reason: Due to my irrational dislike of Northwestern teams that has developed over the years, I was probably unfairly harsh in my critique of the Wildcats after my recent trip to Evanston for a game. I need to pick them for the sake of karma.

Duke over Indiana

Legit Reason: Have you seen Duke? Have you seen Indiana’s lineup? Are you aware of who’s coaching these teams? I don’t think I need to explain this one.

Irrelevant Reason: Since this one’s so overwhelmingly in Duke’s favor, I’m not even giving an irrelevant reason. I’ll simply pose the following question: Wouldn’t it be funnier to see Duke and Indiana have their football teams meet?

Iowa over N.C. State

Legit Reason: Iowa has perhaps the strongest lineup that they’ve had during my time on earth, and while I have more respect for N.C. State than a lot of people, Iowa’s at least a month away from the point each year where their talent becomes irrelevant and they start inexplicably losing games.

Irrelevant Reason: The game’s being played at Carver Hawkeye Arena, an arena that I shouldn’t love, but do anyway.

Florida State over Purdue

Legit Reason: Florida State, if I recall correctly (and I may not), still has lots of young athletes. Purdue has a new coach, a star player coming back from and ACL injury and no supporting cast. I’ll take the Seminoles in that scenario.

Irrelevant Reason: FSU alums Sam Cassell and Bob Sura are some of the goofiest looking players I’ve ever seen. Purdue can’t match that kind of goofy factor, even with Brian Cardinal.

So there you have it–the Big Ten wins in an overwhelming 7-4 manner, taking home their first ever Big Ten-ACC Challenge title. And even though I’m probably wrong about how things will go down (my Wisconsin vs. Wake Forest and Minnesota vs. Maryland predictions scare me the most), at least we’ve finally got a year where the Big Ten has a fighting chance. And for a soulless, made for TV event, this is always a pretty good series. The boys and I will certainly be enjoying it while drinking cheap beer at a downtown tavern this evening...

Monday, November 28, 2005

Great Alaska Shootout Champs

After attending the Wisconsin game, I returned home to watch Marquette take on South Carolina in the finals of the Great Alaska Shootout. I was hoping to take in the entire recording that I had made, but given my midnight return, and an early morning wake-up call earlier in the day, I found myself dozing off near the end of the first half, and delayed the second half until Sunday morning. In a rare moment of isolation, I was able to avoid seeing a score beforehand, and took in the entire game (well, except the beginning which was pre-empted by a football game that ran long) plausibly live (yes, NBC’s Olympic coverage has brought us some great concepts over the years). Here are my thoughts:

1) Let’s get the obvious point out of the way right away–huge night for Ryan Amoroso. I’ve always liked Amoroso’s game, but I’d be lying if I came out and said something like “I’ve been waiting for Amoroso to play like I’ve expected all along.” That’s the best game that I think the big guy will have all year, and his outside shooting, while okay, generally is not going to be as great as it was on Saturday night. That said, I still think Amoroso, assuming that he keeps getting minutes (his minutes were way down prior to this game) has the ability to be one of the most consistent contributors for the Golden Eagles. If he explodes like he did against South Carolina every one in awhile, though, I won’t be angry.

2) I hate to do this now, given Amoroso’s big game, but it’s needed to be said for some time: what was Amoroso thinking with his tattoo? I’ll grant you, he actually has big enough arms for a tattoo to not look totally foolish, but he’s got two major problems with his ink. First, Amoroso has somewhat of a baby-face. Tattoos are for bad-asses, not the big dude who looks kind of like the neighbor kid down the street. Second, Amoroso’s tattoo is of the word “Ammo.” I’m hoping that this is a veiled reference to an incident at a gun range or something, because otherwise, it would seem to me that Ryan decided to get his nickname inked onto his upper-arm. While this is less lame than Chinese characters, or say, my dream of tattooing my academic credentials somewhere on my body, it’s still lame, and I had hoped that Amoroso was more creative than that.

3) Amoroso played big minutes in the frontcourt, as did Ousmane Barro. Jamil Lott spent most of the game on the bench, while senior Chris Grimm didn’t even get on the court. This is almost an exact reversal of minutes compared to some of the earlier Marquette games that I’ve seen. Normally, this is where I’d rip Tom Crean for not being able to settle on a line-up, but I actually feel like he’s on solid ground right now. It’s very possible that he’s just figuring out which of his unproven players will work best in the lineup. And given last night’s results, who can quarrel with the distribution of minutes? If Crean’s still playing totally healthy players 5 minutes one night, and 30 minutes the next night in mid-December, I’ll revisit this point, but for now, I’m holding my tongue, even if I think Jamil Lott is still the best frontcourt player on the team.

4) You’ll notice that Steve Novak didn’t factor into my discussion of frontcourt players. That’s because as much as people want to believe that he’s a power forward, he’s not. The announcers during the game gave the best explanation that I’ve ever heard of Novak, calling him a “floater,” and defining that as a man without a position. I couldn’t agree more. What would you call a slow, skinny 6'10" guy who can shoot the ball as well as anyone in the country? I’d be hard pressed to define it, too.

5) Speaking of Novak, Saturday night he took a great knee to the kidney on a long-range shot. One of my favorite things about him this year is that he’s perfected the art of drawing fouls while shooting three-pointers by drawing defenders into the air and throwing his body into them. Not long ago, my friend Dez noted this skill as a hallmark of Ray Allen’s game. Of course, given my time as a student at Wisconsin, I would actually think of former Badger guard Sean Mason as the master of this skill. Nonetheless, Novak has taken this skill to another level. While the others were great at drawing the fouls and getting to the foul line (a very tough task to begin with), Novak is actually shooting an admirable percentage after getting fouled. Now that’s truly impressive.

6) I liked South Carolina forward Renaldo Balkman for his relentless effort and cool hair. However, he makes me glad that I’m not an ESPN announcer, because given that his name is so close to being an anagram of former NBA player Rolando Blackman’s name, I guarantee I would have slipped up several times when calling out his name.

7) During the ESPN halftime update, they showed footage from halftime of the West Virginia-LSU game where West Virginia retired Jerry West’s number. Much like the game where I saw John Havlicek’s number retired at Ohio State last season, I have to ask: what took so long? Is there anything else that Jerry West could possibly have done to merit having his number retired? Clearly West Virginia doesn’t have the basketball history of say, North Carolina or Kentucky, so how could they not retire in a timely manner the number of one of the best players ever to play the game of basketball? It boggles the mind. Hopefully it won’t take quite so long to see Kevin Pittsnogle’s number hanging from the rafters.

8) As for Dominic James, let’s hope that the guy can stop cramping up at some point this season. Every game that I’ve seen, including this one, has involved him heading off of the court to deal with cramps. You know he has to be doing everything in his power to stop them, but nothing seems to be working right now.

9) Sticking with James for a moment, it occurred to me last evening that James is perhaps the best type of player that Marquette could have brought in this season. The reason is simple: he can create scoring opportunities at key moments. This is particularly important to Marquette, given that last season exposed the fact that Tom Crean isn’t particularly adept as drawing up plays out of time-outs in key situations. To a certain extent when he was healthy, Travis Diener could make up for this, but James is better than Diener at getting into the lane. If a bad play isn’t working, James can just take over and break down the defense on his own. If I had any question as to how valuable that skill is, it was dispelled on Saturday night when James was out of the game with cramps and Dan Fitzgerald led the team into the worthless weaving offense that Marquette often ran out of time-outs last season. Given this sight, I quickly realized that James is even more important to this team that I had anticipated (and that’s saying something).

10) I was a bit confused to see Mike Kinsella actually wearing warm-ups this game, since it feels like I’ve never seen him out of his street clothes. Additionally, it should be noted that Kinsella looked legitimately more excited about winning the Great Alaska Shoot Out than any of the other jubilant Marquette players. Given this level of excitement, I sure hope Kinsella actually gets healthy enough to play at some point during his lifetime. You’d have to guess that he’s dying to play, and I’d love to see how excited he’d get after actually playing in big a game.

11) Comment of the game goes to commentator Jimmy Dykes who several times pointed out that Ryan Amoroso “looks like a guy who’s in there to foul.” Apparently Mr. Dykes has never seen Chris Grimm.

And as you know, Marquette eventually pulled out the overtime win. I’m trying to remain even-tempered, since the Great Alaska Shootout wasn’t full of phenomenal teams this year, and Marquette has a tough road ahead, but I must admit that I never thought they’d win the thing. It was a great way to jump-start the season, though, and it does beg for some increased excitement about the Golden Eagles. As usual, I’m not expecting much this year, but I stand by my comments about Marquette being very, very good in two years. Saturday night’s game made me feel much better about that assertion.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Wisconsin vs. Coastal Carolina: A Pleasant Diversion

Saturday night took me and my friend Kevin to the Wisconsin-Coastal Carolina game in Madison. While I would generally have spent the evening checking out one of the many second evenings of high school tournaments going on around the area (Milwaukee Vincent-Milwaukee Pius would have been awesome), it’s a rare treat for me to get tickets to a Badger game, so it was off to Madison for some big-time basketball fun. Thoughts are below:

1) I enjoyed player introductions, as Coastal Carolina’s two top players, and first two players introduced, were named Pele Paelay and Jack Leasure. Great names. Paelay’s name rivaled that of former Badger Duany Duany, and Jack Leasure sounds like the protagonist from an instructional video on how to play shuffleboard. And if you were thinking of making a joke about Leasure being related to the guy who used to play Joe Isuzu, don’t do it. Do you really think my friend Kevin and I wouldn’t have covered that?

2) During pre-game I had a craving for some ice cream and set off to find one of the concession stands selling UW-Madison’s own Babcock Hall ice cream (it’s a nice perk that Wisconsin has a department that makes some of the best ice cream that I’ve ever had). Sadly, I was not able to taste my favorite flavor from college, Orange Chocolate Chip (really, it’s better than it sounds), since it was not on the menu, and had to settle for Butter Pecan. Though I have to admit, Berry Alvarez is always a tempting flavor.

3) Ah, the game itself. The first notable piece of information had to be the play of Brian Butch. I still believe that Butch will be a phenomenal scorer, and has about the softest touch I’ve ever seen on a man of his size. He’s also bad with contact, and can’t finish lay ups in traffic. He’s the only guy I’ve ever seen that I’d rather see shooting from six feet out than two feet out.

4) DeAaron Williams had a great night, staying active and getting a couple of chances to show off his athleticism. I still think he’s probably sitting just outside of the real rotation, but he went a long way last night towards earning himself some playing time down the road.

5) A quick confidential note to my friend T.J. (and his family): That was an inspired prank phone call to my cell phone during the game, and was excellently executed by your sister. It was so well done that it even reeled me in for a moment (as Kevin will attest to). It took me until the next day to put all the pieces together, but I finally did. Well done.

6) Jason Chappell confuses the heck out of me. How can a guy that typically looks so uninterested in life look like he’s constantly trying hard when he’s placed on the basketball court. Chappell still somewhat lacks in talent, but you can’t help but like how hard he tries when he’s out there, even if when he’s sitting on the bench he looks like he couldn’t care less about what’s going on in the world around him.

7) Last night was a good chance to see the walk-ons get some minutes as the game came to a close, and as usual, Tanner Bronson was the first to enter the game, doing so to tremendous applause. My friend Kevin astutely wondered if Bronson ever gets tired of being a Rudy-like figure to everyone on campus. My best guess is that occasionally he does, but that this feeling is quickly erased as random students buy drinks for Tanner when he’s out at campus taverns.

8) Fellow walk-on Morris Cain had a phenomenal 2-minutes of garbage time, quickly hauling in two rebounds, scoring four points, and committing one foul. I’ll even overlook his horrifically missed foul shot, since Cain had one of the most prolific garbage time performances that I’ve ever seen.

9) Wisconsin ended up winning the game 92-54. Let’s just say that it wasn’t as close as the score indicates (sadly, I’m not even saying that in an attempt to be funny). I’d love to have had more to say about this game, but truthfully, when a team gets up by 50 at any point in the game, let alone with 10 minutes to go, there’s not much that you can tell from the game.

10) A quick post game note: I stopped in for a quick drink with friends at the Echo Tap after the game. Line of the night goes to the bartender from whom I ordered a pitcher of Pabst, who upon returning with my pitcher got a quizzical look on his face and said to me “Uh, let’s just call that $5 tonight.” If you say so, sir.

11) As always, special thanks to my friend Boo-Yah for the ticket hook up. It is always appreciated, even when Coastal Carolina fails to show up to play. Buzz Peterson is certainly a long way from Tennessee these days.

And so I began my drive home to check out the Marquette game that I’d recorded on TV. Which I suppose I should also chronicle. So check it out above.

High School Season Begins!

Friday night took me to my first high school basketball game of the year, a holiday tournament matchup between Whitefish Bay (the team I really wanted to see) and Milwaukee North. Given the snowy weather in the metro Milwaukee area on Friday night, and the fact that the tournament was being hosted at University School, which is not exactly close to where I live, it wasn’t the easiest trip to make. But it takes more than a long trip in bad weather to keep my from high school basketball. Here’s the point-by-point recap”

1) Half the reason that I wanted to attend this tournament was to get my first look at Whitefish Bay, a team with three decent college prospects. The other big reason was that it would give me a chance to see the University School campus. The most expensive private school in the area, I figure on most occasions that someone like me would be turned away by guards at the doors, so I had to take my opportunity to get inside.

2) Speaking of expensive private schools, the choice of the four teams making up the tournament field seemed somewhat curious. You’ve got University School, and the Prairie School from Racine, both private prep schools with pricy tuition. Then there was Whitefish Bay, a public school from one of the most affluent communities in the area. And then there was Milwaukee North, a school located in one of the roughest areas of Milwaukee. If you’d asked me to come up with a four-team tournament field that juxtaposed differing social classes in the Milwaukee area, I can pretty much I would have come up at least two of these teams. It was a unique field to say the least.

3) An injury riddled Whitefish Bay team had a very short bench on Friday night. By my count, there were only eight players dressed and ready to play. Luckily for Bay, only one of their three anticipated stars was out of action for the evening.

4) I saw Whitefish Bay play once last year, and came away severely underwhelmed, after hearing about a couple of guys that were supposed to be big-time players. This game was 180 degrees different. Point guard Steve Gruber, who did nothing in the game I saw last season, had 20+ points, passed extremely well, and acted as an excellent floor leader. He was clearly the most impressive player on the floor Saturday night, though teammate Sherrod Smith was a close second. The leading scorer in the game, Smith appears to have spent some time in the weight room during the off season, and looks primed for a breakout year.

5) I must admit some surprise, as Milwaukee North, not traditionally a power in the Milwaukee City Conference, had some solid players, and could be a mid to high level finisher in its conference this year. Of course, the top 2-3 spots will always contain Milwaukee King and Milwaukee Vincent, but North may be able to hang in there with that next pack of teams this year.

6) The most fun sub-plot during the game was watching Bay’s Gruber battle it out with two Milwaukee North’s guards. Play was heated and physical, and all three players continually attempted to bring the referees’ attention to some of the physical play that they thought went too far. Perhaps the climax came when Gruber, holding the ball in protest to a turnover call, had the ball ripped from him by one of the North guards. To the credit of all of the players, this was one of those rare times when much-heightened emotion didn’t result in anyone losing their cool and committing a flagrant foul or starting a fight. Rather, it was just an exciting battle to watch.

7) Props to Milwaukee North’s coach, who had on a good looking casual shirt. If I could find a shirt like that, I’d buy it in a second.

8) Whitefish Bay, I was told by a nearby fan, was missing two starters, and was giving a freshman (whose name escapes me at the moment) significant playing time. Based on what I saw, even when the regulars return to the lineup the freshman should have a place in the rotation.

9) One of Milwaukee North’s assistant coaches sat on the end of the bench eating popcorn during the second half. It was pretty bizarre to see an assistant actually snacking on the bench. This act vaguely reminded me of a guy I knew in high school who used to warm the bench for his team, and in an effort to keep things fun, would attempt each game to eat a different item of food concealed in his warm-ups without his coach noticing. I still think the licorice rope was most impressive.

10) All in all, I was a fan of the University School gym. It actually contained two basketball courts laid end-to-end, and with a wall separating the two. Capacity wasn’t great, but it was comfortable, and well lit. It’s the kind of place I’d like to build on my land someday when I win the lottery.

And with the Whitefish Bay 80-68 win, I left the gym before the late game. I would have liked to have stuck around, but I was having some people over to my apartment, and needed to get home. Fortunately, my friend Peter was driving, and I didn’t have to mess around with the snow-covered freeway system. And with the things that have been going on with my car as of late, that’s probably a very good thing. Can’t wait to get to my next high school game...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

It's All Downhill From Here...

Wow. For an evening in last night, things couldn’t have gotten much better. Upon arriving home, I fired up the Michigan State-Gonzaga game, which I had assessed as the most interesting match-up up the night. It was also the only game on in the early time slot, so aside from watching my recording of Wisconsin-Old Dominion (which I still need to get to), it was the only option available.

But what an option! Each team has an All-American candidate (Adam Morrison for Gonzaga and Paul Davis for Michigan State), both are top-10 caliber teams (though MSU sits outside of the top-10 currently), and both seemed to be in mid-season form. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a well-played game at the start of a season. This felt more like a regional final than the semi-finals of the Maui Invite. If you saw the game, I can’t tell you anything that you don’t know, because you already know how fabulous it was. You don’t get two teams that are this good driving each other to triple overtime every day. For that matter, you don’t get two teams like this going to triple overtime every season.

The players were phenomenal. Adam Morrison was everywhere for Gonzaga, and set a new Maui Invite scoring record with 43 points. I, for one, had been questioning his pre-season all-American status coming into the year, but he’s worthy of every accolade he receives. Maurice Ager, while a nice player in the past, was absolutely clutch for Michigan State last night. Every time a big three-pointer was needed, he was there. And the supporting casts were equally good, particularly the big men. You won’t find many guys out there better than Paul Davis, and he showed it last night. And while I liked Gonzaga’s J.P. Batista last season, he was always obscured by Rony Turiaf, who was Gonzaga’s top post option prior to graduation. Batista showed last night that he’s ready to pick up right where Turiaf left off as the go-to guy underneath the hoop. It was nearly non-stop excellence last night.

And yes, I know that this ranks as one of my least intelligent posts ever. I think my excitement reverted me into a child-like state last night. In a game this beautiful, I don’t even think I can take time out to make fun of Adam Morrison’s long hair and bad teenage mustache—there will always be time for that later.

You never expect that when you sit down for a game that it will be the best game that you’ll see all year, but that’s what I saw last night. I can’t fathom seeing a better game. It’s all downhill from here, but that’s okay, since we usually don’t get to a peak that’s this high quite this early.

Post-game I tried to tune in to the Texas-Iowa game, and was disappointed to find the Akron-Bowling Green football game going into double-overtime and preempting most of the first half. I tried to hang in there to get a look at the #2 team in the country and the most intriguing team in the Big Ten, but I’ve had a couple of long days, and I dozed off and missed it. That’s okay, since I’ll see both of them soon enough.

Oh, and for those of you who heard me on the radio yesterday with Steve “The Homer” True (an exciting experience, as I’ve always been a fan of the Homer), you’ll be upset to know that I was unable to complete my laundry as I had planned on doing. My downstairs neighbor got to the machine before me, so it looks like tomorrow morning is when I’ll have to get things cleaned up.

Finally, a happy Thanksgiving weekend to all. I’ll likely be taking a bit of a break from writing this weekend, but I know that I’ll be attending at least two games in person, and it’s still pre-season tourney time, so the TV will be a great friend. So enjoy the long weekend with family (and basketball)—I know I will.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Embracing Mediocrity

Last evening was a phenomenal evening for basketball. UWM was hosting Upper Iowa downtown. Wisconsin’s appearance in the finals of the Paradise Jam was inexplicably being shown on Fox Sports Pacific, which even more inexplicably, I have access to through my cable sports package. Iowa was taking on Kentucky, and Kansas and Arizona were meeting, both on ESPN or ESPN2. And if I got sick of basketball, I could be a good Wisconsinite and revert to watching the Packers-Vikings Monday Night Football game. With so many choices, what did I end up doing?

Attending the Northwestern-Florida Atlantic game, of course.

That’s right, I was down in Evanston taking in a game being played by a team that’s typically one of the Big Ten’s worst. The genesis of this idea came a couple weeks ago when my friend Dez, who’s intent on taking more trips to bizarre games this year, noted that the Matt Doherty-coached Florida Atlantic Owls were making a trip to Welsh-Ryan Arena. I had no objection to making the trip, other than the fact that I’d probably end up guilting myself into working over Thanksgiving weekend to make up the time that I missed at work in order to begin our drive at 4:30. And so we ordered tickets and went on our way, ignoring the fact that there were plenty of viable game options at home, and heading to check out a mediocre college game.

1) The best comment of the night was immediately received upon pulling into the parking lot next to Welsh-Ryan Arena. As Dez was handing the parking guy our money, he asked where we could park in the lot. The guy told us “Go to the left, and park between the white lines.” It was nice to know that going left was the first step, but did he really need to tell us to park in an actual space? Did we look like we couldn’t figure that out?

2) Ah, Welsh-Ryan Arena. It was good to see this oversized high school fieldhouse again, complete with its 2 concession stands, and semi-outdoor staircases to the upper deck. The last time I had been down to Welsh-Ryan was when I was a freshman in college, and was taking in a Badger game. At the time, my friends and I were in Evanston with time to spare, and since there’s nothing to do in Evanston, we decided to just head over to the arena, grab out tickets at will-call, and mill around for awhile. After finding the arena, we walked into the first door that we could find and began looking for will-call. As we began wandering around, it became apparent to us that we were actually in the concourse of the arena, and were there far too early, as a pre-game shoot-around was taking place. Shortly before we found will-call, a security guard stumbled upon us and angrily told us that we weren’t supposed to be there. So yeah, we had unwittingly entered Welsh-Ryan Arena because the back door was left open. Not exactly the Big Ten Arena I was expecting.

3) Attendance last night was worse than a UWM game. The only difference was that when I go to UWM games, I pay $5 for a seat, and sit wherever I want. Since Northwestern is a Big Ten school, I could understand that prestige factor bumping up the ticket prices to $8, or even $10, but I was offended that I’d paid $20 for a ticket. Granted, it was nice that Dez and I had our choice of two sections of the arena completely for ourselves (208 was comfortable enough for me), but when you can’t pull more than 3000 people, maybe the price tag is part of the problem.

4) Florida Atlantic was surprisingly more athletic than Northwestern, but I had some sense watching their warm-ups that they would not be the most talented team that I’d ever seen. It was one of the least crisp warm-up routines that I’d ever seen, and their passing was pretty half-assed. So let me get this straight—Matt Doherty was once a hot coaching commodity?

5) During player intros, my ears perked up upon hearing the first player from Florida Atlantic introduced as being from Milwaukee. I anticipated the name, wondering who this guy could be, and then I heard the name: Drew Skeeter. Never a player of note, I still recalled the name, since it’s a pretty unique name. To the best of my knowledge, he was a goofy looking kid who wore goggles and rode the bench at Milwaukee Vincent. I have since confirmed the Vincent part of the equation. Yes, that’s how good Vincent is—even their bench warmers end up playing division one ball.

6) I had been anxiously awaiting the chance to get an in-person look at Mike Thompson, the transfer center from Duke who had once been a McDonald’s All-American. But it was not to be. Something curious must going on there, though. Thompson suited up, and participated in warm ups, but never saw the court. During the first half, he appeared uninterested in team huddles during timeouts. The second half got weirder, as after the first timeout ended and the team broke its huddle, Thompson began walking toward his chair at the end of the bench, but instead continued past, walking totally off the floor, presumably to the locker room. He eventually returned to the bench sometime around the 10 minute mark, but didn’t move once, failing to join the team huddle during timeouts. I attempted to see if Thompson had an injury, or is simply becoming the biggest head case in the Big Ten, and the common consensus seems to be that he was ill. But that's not the body language that I was picking up from him, and the author of an article in the Northwestern student newspaper seemed to express similar confusion, noting that Thompson had started the prior three games. The article quotes Bill Carmody as curiously saying “He hasn’t been feeling well. That’s all I can even tell you.” Since this is the only article that I've seen even allude to any deeper problems, I've got to give props to the famed Northwestern School of Journalism,

7) The Daily Northwestern piece also noted that Wildcat guard Evan Seacat had started the prior three games along with Thompson, and also did not play. It had occurred to me that it seemed odd not to see Seacat playing, but then part of me wondered if the reason that I knew who he was could be attributed to the fact that I’d taken note of his cool surfer name over the years. So I wrote it off at the time, but I guess I really did know more about Northwestern than I thought.

8) Northwestern guard Tim Doyle is one of the least talented guards that I’ve ever seen in the Big Ten, and is a terrible ball handler. Of course, he had 13 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds last night. Some would say that this makes him a scrappy over-achiever. I’d be more prone to say that he’s a beneficiary of virtually no one else on Northwestern being a capable ballplayer.

9) Let’s be honest, Northwestern’s not good. I’ve probably over-ranked them for two years, mainly because they’ve had 2-3 pretty good players every year, Bill Carmody runs an offense that’s really fun to watch, and I’ve had a man-crush on Vedran Vukusic (who dumped in 27 last night, including a game-sealing dunk, by the way) for the last three years. But when you look past Northwestern’s top three players (Vukusic, a solid option, Muhamed Hachad, a reasonably talented guard, and Mike Thompson, who no one knows what to expect from), there’s not another player on the roster I’d be pleased with having on a Big Ten team. It just isn’t a deep team.

10) I take some of that last paragraph back, as Northwestern freshman Sterling Williams looked okay last night in limited duty. There are more interesting questions about Williams, though. He’s best known first Chicago city league player in decades to come to Northwestern. Given this background, do you think his buddies from high school give him lots of crap for playing at Northwestern? I know I would. The jump from a public school in Chicago to a frou-frou private school in an affluent area just to the north makes Williams ripe for some ironic harassment.

11) The Northwestern halftime spectacular managed to hit upon all of the worst variants of fan contests. It began with a kid in a shooting contest where he had to hit a series of 7 shots from spots running down the lane. That wasn’t so bad. Next came the contest with the awesome prize (a vacation package) that was impossible to win. Sure, having people make paper airplanes out of Northwestern posters and attempt to land them completely inside a suitcase seemed fun enough, but no one got within 6 feet of the suitcase. I’m not even sure the planes would have fit in the suitcase, to be honest.

The final contest was the best one, since it was easy, the reward was a requisite weak prize (a $25 gift card) and the competitor failed in hilarious fashion. The contestant, a female Northwestern student, had to answer some foolish question about who was the all-time rebounding leader at Northwestern, or something like that, by solving a word jumble at half court. The answer was clearly Evan Eschmeyer, and the contest staff even seemed to help the contestant out, as the manner in which the letters were layed out basically showed the “meyer” part of the name with very little mixed up. Nonetheless, she rearranged the letters to come up with the name “Sven Macheyer.” Talk about dropping the ball. Although seeing a student come up with a viable name that included the first name “Sven” may rank as the funniest thing I’ve seen at a game this season since the PB&J Challenge presentation at the Milwaukee Bucks game a few weeks back.

12) At the end of the night it was apparent to me that Florida Atlantic was not a good team. And they nearly got back into the game in the final two minutes, so it could also be said that Northwestern is not all that good a team. I am legitimately frightened for the Wildcat guards once they enter conference season and see a legitimate full-court press. I am officially done declaring that this is the year that Northwestern will show us something. I now know that’s not true, and I’m moving on.

And with Nortwestern’s 10 point win, we began our journey home. The hour and a half drive back was shorter than I expected, and made me think that future trips to Evanston wouldn’t be as much of a hassle as I’d always thought. Of course, I’ve got very little desire to see more of Northwestern, so it’s still probably a trip that I won’t be making very often.

Tonight I’ve got a pile of laundry, last night’s Wisconsin game recorded and ready to watch, and a ton of basketball on ESPN. So you could say that it’s going to be a fun, relaxing night.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Here In My Car, I Feel Safest of All...

Due to Wisconsin playing in a tournament at a far-away tropical island, there was no television coverage of their games. Given my schedule, I had some doubt that I would catch either of their games on the radio, either. Friday night was out, since I was at the Blue & Gold Classic put on by Marquette, and Saturday I was attending a friend’s holiday party in Oregon (the city in Wisconsin, not the state in the Pacific Northwest).

Fortunately for me, I was running late for the holiday party, and was able to take in the Wisconsin vs. Eastern Kentucky game on the radio on the way up. Even more fortunately for me, I always seem to get lost when I go to Oregon, so I ended up in the car for much longer than I had anticipated, and caught more than just the first half of action that I had planned on.

Eventually I got my bearings, and found myself in the correct subdivision. (In an odd turn of events, at nearly the moment I cracked the code of how to travel the streets of Oregon, my friend Ferd called for directions on how to get to the party. That Ferd called me roughly 4 seconds after I found the street that I had been looking for was weird enough, but perhaps more confusing was that Ferd had actually grown up in Oregon. So maybe it’s not just me that’s confused by the roads there). With roughly five minutes to go and the Badgers ahead 58-55, I arrived at the party. And while I’m a basketball fanatic, I’m also not completely anti-social, so I left my car and the game and went inside to visit with friends. I figured I’d find out the score from someone later that night.

Of course, if the story ended here, it would be a pretty crappy story. So there’s more. After about 15 minutes at the party, I got to chatting with my friend Josh, perhaps the biggest Wisconsin fan that I know. I gave him the game score as of when I arrived, and he showed some concern, noting that he wanted to go check the score on the radio in his car. Given that I had been at the party for awhile, and there had been a minimal amount of time left when I got out of my car, I said that the game was almost certainly over, and we’d be able to get the score from the post-game show. So we went out to his car.

To our surprise, play-by-play man Matt Lepay was announcing that two minutes remained in overtime. So, I looked at Josh and said “Unlock the door–I’m getting in the passenger side.” And we began to listen to the end of the game. Eventually word got around about what was going on in the game, and three others joined us in the car. I’ve never been part of something so absurd, yet so fun. Here it is–nearly 10pm on a Saturday night, and five guys are sitting in a parked car in a residential neighborhood, sipping drinks, and listening to a basketball game, completely ignoring a party across the street.. If I was a neighbor, I might have called the cops.

But for those of us in the car, there was something fun about passing around high-fives when Kammron Taylor hit the three-pointer to send the game into double-overtime, and it was something that wouldn’t have been the same if we’d been sitting on a sofa watching a high definition feed of the game. No, the fact that we were in a car listening to a poor radio feed of the game had weeded out the lesser fans. Emotions were running high, and we were all in on it. In my mind, this marks the first truly great basketball moment of the season. Five guys sitting in the cold waiting for a game outcome–does it get more exciting than that?

Of course, the Badgers eventually won the game in the second overtime. And it was a dramatic game, with clutch plays by that surely would have been fun to see. Alando Tucker nearly dropped 40 points on Eastern Kentucky, Marcus Landry proved he could be an effective college player, Kammron Taylor hit a clutch shot, and the Wisconsin team learned how to eek out a tough win. But from where I was sitting, this night wasn’t about winning the game. Rather, it was about convening with friends, making fun of the color commentator, predicting how freshmen would fair this year, and talking about the season ahead, all while basketball played in the background. In short, it was a 15 minute glimpse into why I love watching basketball (even though ironically, I was not actually watching it at the time).

Apologies for my prior paragraphs coming out a bit more sentimental than I had intended, but sometimes it takes an absurd situation like sneaking out of a party with 4 other guys to listen to a game on a car stereo to remind you of why you like everyday things. And this was an absurd night. Hopefully I’ll get my first glimpse at the Badgers via DVR sometime tomorrow. Tonight I’ll miss the television presentation of the game, as I’m headed down to the state of Illinois for the night. Don’t worry–it’s basketball related, utterly ridiculous, and I’ll explain it all tomorrow.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Blue & Gold Classic Redux

Friday night took me down to the Bradley Center for the opening round of Marquette’s annual Blue & Gold Classic, which over the past several years has become a sad excuse to get corporate sponsorship for two otherwise pedestrian games on Marquette’s home schedule. I went with my buddy Dez, who’s quickly becoming my go-to basketball watching friend. Anyway, onto the evening itself, consisting of two games: Winthrop vs. IUPUI and Marquette vs. Rice. Thoughts below:

1) When Dez and I walked into the Bradley Center at halftime of the Winthrop-IUPUI game, we were among probably 150 fans in the entire building. It was bizarre. I’ll grant you, Marquette is always the big draw in the Blue & Gold Classic, but I still expected a few more for the early game. Both Dez and I had done enough requisite research to know that Winthrop was not exactly a push-over in terms of mid-majors. And let’s not forget, Marquette would have to play one of them the next night. What better place to anticipate matchups?

2) I wish I had more to say about the Winthrop-IUPUI game, but to be honest, I didn’t watch it as closely as I could have. I didn’t immediately know who anyone on either team was, I got caught up for awhile trying to buy beer from an inept concession worker who couldn’t figure out how to open his cash register drawer, and I was getting my first chance to look at factoids in the Marquette program. So my attention to the game was weaker than usual. And let’s be honest–this game would have been a lot more interesting had it not been played in a cavernous arena with 150 fans (100 of whom were likely ignoring the game) present. Still, I had a sense that Winthrop was every bit as good as Blue Ribbon made them out to be.

3) Marquette returned some of it’s excitement to the player intros on Friday night, showing off the same video that they had used at midnight madness a few weeks earlier, as well as new individual player intro videos. If I haven’t made reference to the general intro video before, it’s a really cool piece of work. Each of the players is a giant, walking around various areas and key buildings in the Milwaukee area. Eventually they converge on the Bradley Center, and being giants, lift up the arena roof to get a peek at what’s going on inside. It works because it’s both technologically interesting, and is done in a light, humorous way. Kudos to whoever came up with this concept.

4) I looked at Dez about a minute and a half into the game and said “Marquette’s going to run away with this one tonight.” And given that my faith in Marquette from game to game this year is pretty low, that’s saying something about Rice.

5) Why didn’t I like Rice? At least two of their players had bizarre hitches in their shots. I was actually surprised at how well they shot the ball in the first half, given that some of them looked like middle-schoolers who had not learned proper mechanics, but their hot shooting wore off in the second half. You sort of knew it would.

6) Marquette went with the same starting lineup as in its second exhibition game, with Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews, Steve Novak, and Jamil Lott staring. Based on the play I’ve seen so far, barring injury or one Tom Crean’s odd attempts to shake things up, I see no reason why this won’t be the starting lineup all year. These are clearly the best guys available, with one brief, but notable exception, which I’ll talk about in my next point.

7) I’ve been a big believer that Dan Fitzgerald was over-hyped as a key player for the Golden Eagles. And to be honest, I still think that some of my friends were expecting too much from the guy, but if he can put out an effort like he did on Friday every night of the year, he’s going to be a very solid player for Marquette. I think he clearly won the backup point guard job (I think I can get used to having a 6'9" point guard) on Friday night with his steady play, and handful of spectacular passes. And there’s a good reason that he’s not starting. If his play continues, he’ll be the perfect sixth-man–a rock solid performer who can come in and calm things down.

8) In the second half Jerel McNeal had a steal where I couldn’t believe that he even got near the ball. I hate to keep saying how quick he is on defense, but he blows you away every time you watch his hands or feet.

9) I went to purchase a second round of beers during the second half and foolishly went to the “premium” beer booth in the concourse. This resulted in me getting two ridiculously small Spotted Cows (for those of you out-of-staters, this is one of Wisconsin’s more popular, and more tasty micro-brews) for $6.50 apiece. And while the size of the beers was disturbing in relation to their cost, once I got back to my seat I was more upset with my choice of beer than the price itself. I like Spotted Cow a lot, but on Friday night I realized that it’s not a beer that is meant to be consumed while watching a basketball game at an arena. Sporting events are about cheap (well, not at the arena, but in daily life) macro-brews. If you’re in the stands, you should be drinking the beer of the people. That’s why I vow that on the rare nights when I actually am drinking at games this year, I will drink nothing but Miller Lite. This I can promise.

10) Though Marquette finally out-rebounded someone, the big men were still lacking in the game against Rice. Rice was getting into the lane easily and had lots of opportunities to get off easy lay-ups. Fortunately they weren’t getting second chances, and that’s a nice start, but someone’s got to start closing down the lane. Of course, since the lineup is far from settled, it’s unclear (other than Jamil Lott, who’s clearly the best big man so far) who’ll be getting the opportunity to make these plays.

And due to my Saturday night plans, I didn’t make it down to night #2 of the Blue and Gold Classic, which ended up being a rare loss by Marquette in its home tournament. Two quick thoughts on that:

1) As I was leaving the arena on Friday night, I noted that my official prediction for the next night’s game was Winthrop winning by 6 points. They won by 7. On rare occasions, I can get these things right.

2) It needs to be asked–who scheduled Winthrop for this thing? Because it was one of the stupidest scheduling choices that anyone could have made. Winthrop is one of the better mid-majors out there this year, which means essentially nothing to the average fan who only knows that Winthrop isn’t a big name school. Thus, if Marquette wins the tournament, beating Winthrop along the way, they get no credit, because to most of the general public it seems like they beat up on one of their infamously second-rate early season opponents. If they lose to Winthop, as they did on Saturday, 90% of the people out there think that it’s an embarrassing loss to a no-name school. But it’s not. Marquette lost to a very good mid-major. No, they still shouldn’t be losing that game (well, maybe this year they should), but it’s a lot more forgivable than losing to a truly inept opponent.

If I’m setting the schedule for the Blue & Gold Classic, I’m either filling it with totally inept mid-majors, or more likely, due to the tournament nature of things, I’m bringing in a mediocre team from a major conference to meet Marquette in the finals. Because let’s face it, losing to Colorado might not be any be any better from a basketball standpoint than losing to Winthrop, but most casual fans are going to forgive you a lot easier for losing to a “name” school like Colorado. Of course, if I had it my way, the Blue & Gold would still be what it was in my childhood: a thinly veiled excuse to get Marquette and Wisconsin to play a game in the finals. But that’s a topic for another day.

More to follow on my weekend. Stay tuned...

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Duke's On ESPN Tonight? Really?

First off today, special thanks to Mark Miller of the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook who recently gave me a very nice write-up on his website and allowed me to explain some of my background and motivation for this site. I’ve been a longtime reader of his publication, and have great respect for his work. In addition to the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook being a must-read for any fan in Wisconsin, his website kept me entertained over the summer when there was nowhere else to get semi-obscure basketball news. So go to his site, read some news, and buy a yearbook. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Lest you think I’m saying this just because of the niceties that Mr. Miller is offering about my site, I was saying the same thing a few weeks ago back when he had no idea who I was. Come on, I have some integrity.

And I promise not to open up tomorrow by giving much deserved credit to others, as I’ve done the past two days. Tomorrow it’s back to being all about me.

On to last night’s game. Though this year’s basketball season is still young, the first week of regular-season action has given me very little time to wish that there was more basketball going on. Sure, high school hoops doesn’t kick off until the last weekend in November, and ESPN won’t completely hit its stride until next week, but there’s been plenty to watch so far. Heck, on Monday I even had to choose between exhibition games of two of the state’s top teams, against two solid division three programs. But alas, the state was tapped out for basketball last night. So what’s a basketball fan to do?

Answer: Watch Duke on ESPN.

Duke’s on ESPN so much that I think they have a regular time slot, just before Sportscenter. Not that I mind, because I must sheepishly admit, I’m a bit of a Duke fan (yes, I know this makes me unpopular with about 95% of the population). Even Duke haters would have to concede, though, that you can’t truly know what’s going on in the world of college basketball unless you’ve had some opportunity to see Duke. With that in mind, I sat down to watch a game played by the #1 team in the land.

And of course, the Blue Devils clearly played like the #1 team in the land, playing stifling defense, showing off oodles of freshman talent, and pounding Seton Hall into submission, to the tune of a 93-40 final score. The game was so ugly (there was a nearly fifteen minute gap between Seton Hall’s first and second field goals) that even I stopped watching after awhile. So my nightly breakdown ends at the first half. That is, unless you want to hear about me cleaning my bathroom in the second half, and the wonders that the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser worked on my ceiling. I’m doubting that you do, so I’m limiting discussion to my game-watching notes:

1) Last night was one of the rare times that there was a game being played at Cameron Indoor Stadium and Dick Vitale wasn’t around to call it for ESPN. Instead, Rick Majerus was the color man. In the past, I’ve been sort of down on Majerus as a color man, since I’ve always preferred him in the studio, where his personality can come out. Last night I enjoyed him. The personality is more subdued in games, but when Majerus is cracking jokes, you can forget that he has a phenomenal basketball mind. His observations were plenty astute last night, beginning with his point that Mike Krzyzwewski’s move of starting two of his freshman was smart because it allowed his experienced players to come off the bench and give a lift, something they’re probably more capable of than freshmen. I’d never thought of it that way, but it’s clear that Majerus had, and that’s why he’s so brilliant.

2) Perhaps the most electrifying play of the game (okay, the half) came when Duke sophomore DeMarcus Nelson slammed home an alley-oop dunk on a pass from Sean Dockery. The play was great primarily because Seton Hall had it pretty well defended, and Nelson probably shouldn’t have been able to do what he did. But of course, he pulled off a ridiculously athletic play and got the dunk down. It was one of those nights for Seton Hall, you could say.

3) The announcers noted that J.J. Redick, whose name I’ve been spelling wrong for the last three years (don’t feel bad, J.J., I actually spelled my own middle name incorrectly for most of my life, until about 3 years ago when I realized my error), told someone in an interview that he expected freshman point guard Greg Paulus to be "the next hated Duke player." I’m not sure whether this would be a blessing or a curse, but the announcers seemed to think it’s a good thing. I guess it’s nice to be the target of fans’ anger, since that means that you’re pretty good, but I also doubt that it’s completely cool to have the entire nation hating you. But Paulus must sort of thrive on that type of feeling. After all, his second choice school was Notre Dame.

4) ESPN picked a few moments to show the brother and mother of Duke freshman Josh McRoberts, both of whom were at the game last night. Either McRoberts’ mom looked eerily young for someone who’s got a son who’s a freshman in college, or I’m losing my ability to tell age as I myself get older. I easily would have guessed that Mrs. McRoberts was Josh’s older sister.

5) Since we’re going to the family corner, sitting next to Mrs. McRoberts was Dave Paulus, father of Duke point guard Greg Paulus. He was sporting the always chic look of a shirt, tie, and baseball cap. Mr. Paulus, if you’re going to wear the cap, at least take 15 minutes to stop and change clothes before the game.

6) The low point for Seton Hall came on a Duke semi-fastbreak. Just as the ball got into the lane, it got kicked to J.J. Redick, who was standing behind the three point arc. The pass was slightly off, and Redick bobbled it, regained a handle on the ball, and squared up again to shoot. He still had time to spare in getting this super-slow shot, and it swished through the net. Duke 33, Seton Hall 5. No, that’s not a typo.

7) Comment of the night came right after the Redick shot when a buddy of mine who was also watching the game called my phone and asked "Do you think Seton Hall’s going to score another basket this half?’ At that point, I honestly wasn’t sure they would.

And I pretty much stopped watching at the half, save for a few random check-ins. Though before I left I did watch a couple minutes of the studio show in order to continue my Steve Lavin hair watch from last season. Last night he was back to the slicked back helmet, though I had noticed the evening prior that he was going with a more free-formed do that still contained roughly two pounds of gel. I’ll keep my eye on this developing story.

Also stay tuned, as in the next week or so, I hope to get organized and introduce you to a couple of friends that will be contributing to the site this season. They all bring something to the table in terms of basketball knowledge and wit, so I think you’ll enjoy their presence.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

At Least UWM Had a Better Night Than Daron Sutton

First things first–I have some additional required reading for you today, as perhaps my two favorite bloggers have written about the teams of my wonderful home state. First off, the Big Ten Wonk has his look at Wisconsin, the last of his alphabetically-organized glimpses at Big Ten teams. For a guy who doesn’t follow Wisconsin as his primary team, he gets it remarkably right. Dare I say it, his objectivity may make him a better source for pre-season Wisconsin info than me, an admitted Wisconsin homer.

Second, if you were not aware, Kyle from the Mid-Majority is doing columns for ESPN this year. He’s writing about, not surprisingly, mid-major teams. His most recent piece is about finding "the next UWM" this year. Obviously, UWM gets significant mention. And seeing as today’s game recap is about UWM, it’s probably a good primer. Thanks for the publicity for the Panthers, Kyle.

Now onto the game recapping. Last night found me at home in my recliner checking out UWM the first televised game, and first regular season game of any team this season. And Memphis worked them over good, winning 79-51 and showing the Panthers that while their Sweet 16 last year was nice, this is 2005-06, and they’re going to need to start all over again if they want to make a similar run. Here are my recap points:

1) The first five minutes of the game were a bit disheartening for me. The Tigers were causing problems with their press, throwing down athletic dunks, and generally running at another speed than the Panthers in an attempt to cause havoc. In short, they were playing like last year’s UWM team, only with more athletic talent. And we all saw what happened last year when UWM had a productive night, so things looked bad by the Panthers.

2) Memphis is ranked 12th in the nation, but despite their crushing win over UWM, a solid team, I don’t think they’re a top-12 team. They make a lot of mistakes, and their success is built not on solid basketball skills, but on flashy athletes (admittedly, which they have a lot of) making plays. Again, they’re much like UWM last year. They could win or lose to anyone on any given night. Looking at their schedule, I see that they play Purdue and Texas back to back in their non-conference season (which, I might add, was splendidly put together, most likely in an attempt to make up for the fact that Memphis was the only legit team to get left in Conference USA during re-alignment). I wouldn’t be totally surprised to see a loss to Purdue, followed by a win against Texas.

3) I don’t get into baseball much, so I don’t have a good read on how Daron Sutton, the Panthers’ play-by-play man for local TV is with his primary job as Milwaukee Brewers’ play-by-play man, but he was awful last night for the Panther game. I don’t remember him being this bad last year, so perhaps he’s just rusty, but he was absolutely terrible last night. His first gaffe of the evening wasn’t really his fault though, as he proclaimed that Sam Houston State was a surprise upset winner over Missouri earlier in the evening. I know a lot of people haven’t caught on to the whole Missouri thing, but is anyone out there that follows college basketball honestly surprised when Missouri loses to someone. I know I’m not.

4) Side note–that was weird typing the words "Panthers’ play-by-play man." It’s going to be a fun year having a UWM team that is actually shown on local TV on a regular basis this year. Last year we were almost there, but this year should be consistent.

5) The announcers noted that in the previous evening’s Duke-Boston University game, Jay Bilas called Joah Tucker one of his top-5 players in the country. I haven’t been able to confirm this, as I still haven’t sat through the entire game, which I recorded on Monday. But if true, that’s a huge compliment from a guy that I think is one of the most astute observers of college basketball. I also disagree with Bilas if he said this, despite the fact that I’m a tremendous homer. Tucker’s good, but I think I could find 5 better players without much problem.

6) UWM had no steals at the half. I believe Memphis had 8. Do you need further proof that UWM was getting UWM’d?

7) On to the cavalcade of stupid Daron Sutton comments. Here’s #1: "(Joah) Tucker has two fouls–we’ll have to keep an eye on that." Yeah Daron, you’d definitely want to keep an eye on Tucker’s foul problems, as he’s the star player for UWM. But this comment was made with 13 minutes to go in the game. I hardly find a player with two fouls to be in severe foul trouble if he has 3 fouls with 13 minutes to go.

8) I meant to go back and confirm this, since upon reflection it seems impossible that anyone would make this mistake, but with 9 minutes left in the game, Sutton told us that Adrian Tigert had fouled out of the game. Maybe I heard him wrong, but I could swear that’s what he said. Imagine my surprise when Tigert re-entered the game a few minutes later. Nice catch, Daron. Apologies if I misheard you.

9) On a side note, Sutton did make one good call on the night, harping on the refs and the tight manner in which they called the game. Tigert, for example, committed two fouls where he literally had not touched the guy who he apparently fouled. No wonder this game ran long.

10) Final complaint about Daron Sutton–why does the guy like Panther guard Avery Smith so much? Sure it’s a nice story that he was supposed to redshirt, but impressed the coaching staff so much that they’ve got him playing this year, but get over it already. Sutton must have referred to how well the guy was playing about 20 times last night. And you know what–Smith had an okay game, but certainly didn’t deserve the raves that he drew from Sutton.

So in the end the Panthers lost in a blowout. I won’t lie–it was nearly every bit as bad as the score. The game also adds to my thoughts about what the Panthers’ will be this year. I still expect them to cruise through the Horizon League with ease, playing an effective, consistent brand of basketball. But this team isn’t built for miraculous upsets like last year. So while I don’t see any random, inexplicable losses to Butler on the horizon (no pun intended, honest), I also don’t see any random, inexplicable wins over Boston College. I’m still not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Marquette vs. UW-Whitewater: Last Stop Before the Blue & Gold Classic

Lots of action tonight as Wisconsin, Marquette, and UW-Green Bay were in action. Green Bay’s battle with Washington was pretty much totally inaccessible, and Wisconsin and Marquette both were untelevised, so I needed to actually attend a game tonight in order to get my fix. Wisconsin vs. Lawrence was alluring, as Lawrence has been a solid team over the last few years, but Madison’s still a long drive for me on a weeknight. Plus, Lawrence was so much less athletic than UWM last year in its first foray into the world of exhibition games, that I had some idea of what the outcome would be. And it’s not a huge step down to stay in Milwaukee when Marquette’s around and they’re playing a Whitewater team with lots of name players. Plus, my numerous Whitewater alum friends would likely be angry with me if I didn’t take the opportunity to write something about their team. So this breakdown’s for you, fellas. Enjoy:

1) My friend Gus and I bought our tickets from a scalper tonight. It’s a much easier thing to do when they’re standing in a cold rain, and they know that if they don’t unload their tickets on you cheaply, you’re just going to end up buying the cheapest seats available at the ticket window and sitting wherever you want (despite the posturing from one guy that we’d be paying double what he was offering us if we went to the window). Sure, Gus and I paid pretty much exactly what we would have paid for tickets if we hadn’t let the scalper pull entice us away from the ticket window, and our seats weren’t located together, but it didn’t matter. We bought our tickets for well under face value, and successfully knocked our scalper down $10 without even trying. We went away with the satisfaction of knowing we’d haggled somewhat successfully. And let’s face it, that guy probably bought those tickets for half of what we paid, so really, everybody won.

2) One of the reasons that I was excited to check out the Marquette-UW-Whitewater game tonight was that Whitewater always seems to have some former local high school players of note. I was not let down, as interesting sub-plots included former high school teammates Wesley Matthews and Kori Vernon on opposing teams, and former Marquette walk-on Andy Freund returning to town as a starter for the Warhawks. Matthews was solid as always, Vernon played only a handful of minutes, and Freund, limited by foul trouble, still acquitted himself nicely, hauling in 10 rebounds.

3) As noted, Andy Freund rebounded well, as did his teammates. I didn’t realize how horrendous Marquette’s rebounding was (I knew it was bad, but had no idea how much so) until the post-game show when it was noted that Marquette had fewer rebounds that its opponent in both of its exhibitions. If the Golden Eagles big men don’t pick it up quickly and significantly, this season is going to be very, very painful. As of this moment, Marquette has been out-rebounded by physically smaller opponents from a division two and a division three school. Can you imagine what Uconn’s going to do?

4) The one bright spot in the frontcourt for the Golden Eagles was Jamil Lott, who continues to impress, and largely had his way any time he received the ball in the post. Lott’s quickly becoming the big man that the Golden Eagles will look to this year. The true test will come when he faces someone closer to his own size, but for now, he’s off to a very encouraging start.

5) Steve Novak could not miss in the first half. I think he may have been using magnets to cheat or something. He hit four three-pointers, one of which was taken from a slightly off-balance position, and one of which was from a completely off-balance stance after being fouled hard. I haven’t reviewed the play of Mr. J.J. Reddick of Duke on ESPN2 tonight (he’s on the DVR as we speak), but if we were having shooting contest, I can tell you that I wouldn’t be betting on the guy from Durham. And to Novak’s credit, he actually had some nice drives to the hoop tonight.

6) Whitewater’s Billy Koliniske, a former local high school player of note was matched up against Novak for much of the second half. Three things are notable about this matchup. First, Novak repeatedly drove hard at Kolinske, who couldn’t defend the man with the hot hand. Second, one of the reasons that Novak could take it so hard at Kolinske is that Kolinske is built like a shorter, thinner version of Novak, so there was nothing to be scared of. Finally, if they were casting for extras to play Richie Cunningham’s teammates at Jefferson High in an episode of Happy Days, both of these guys would have the inside track.

7) I decided to take the plunge and try something from one of the “new and improved” menus at one of the concession stands. I bought a buffalo chicken sandwich topped with blue cheese cole slaw. It was pretty good, and very spicy, but it wasn’t $7 good. No sandwich is. I probably wouldn’t have even bought the thing if I hadn’t incorrectly hypothesized that for $7 they would have to throw in some fries. Next time I’m sticking to popcorn.

8) As I was taking my sandwich back to my seat, I noted a couple dining at a table near the concession stand and watching the game on television. As I walked by, the guy exclaimed at the TV, “Come on, Marquette, you’ve got two guys right under the hoop! How can you not get that rebound!?!” I felt like looking back and exclaiming “Come on weak-ass Marquette fans! How can you not be in your seats inside the arena!?!” Seriously, who feels the need to actually stay in the concourse and have a nice dinner when you’re ordering from the concession stand. You’re here for the game–just take the hamburger into the stands with you like a normal person and watch the game live. You could have hamburgers and watch the game on TV from home most nights, and it would cost you 1/3 of the price.

9) The night would not be complete without some discussion of the UW-Whitewater mascot. The Warhawk had one of the most pathetic costumes that I’ve ever seen. There was a basic mascot head and some feathers, but the legs of the mascot appeared not to be standard furry mascot leggings, but sweatpants instead. As a result, the legs looked both frail and cheap. The topping off of the ensemble with a t-shirt up top added a second layer of low-rent mascot costuming. But you know what they say that it’s not what’s on the outside of the mascot, but what’s inside that counts (okay, no one’s ever said that, but I’m saying it now). And the guy (or girl) inside the mascot costume was astoundingly good. His dancing is what set him apart, but he also played around with the refs effectively and generally kept the energy level high. Not a lot of division three guys ever get the chance to jump to pro sports after college, but if the guy playing the San Diego Chicken dies or something, the guy in the Warhawk costume could get a shot. I can only imagine what he would do with proper legs.

10) After my praise of the Whitewater mascot, it seems as good a time as ever to note that I’ve been forgetting to mention that I think the new Marquette Golden Eagle mascot that was unveiled prior to the season is a tremendous upgrade. Whereas I always thought the old one looked a lot more like a platypus than any sort of bird, let alone an eagle, the new mascot actually has some eagle characteristics. So, maybe something good did come out of the whole mascot controversy this summer.

11) Dominic James continued to show off impressive athletic ability, tonight choosing the cross-over dribble as his weapon of choice. Once he starts going to this regularly, I don’t see many people stopping him from getting to the hole. His quickness is nearly as great as his leaping ability. All that said, he’s going to need to learn to knock off some of the showy passes that he threw tonight, and occasionally just go for the score himself. Yeah, you read that right–I promise you, someone this wonderful does exist.

12) Line of the night goes to my friend Dez, who attended the game with his wife, and who Gus and I met up with. As Whitewater’s dance team took the floor at halftime to perform a routine prior to the Marquette squad, it quickly became obvious that it wasn’t doing the most difficult routine ever. Dez noted to us all at this point, “It’s pretty clear that Whitewater’s dance team has a no-cut policy. I would have some idea about that, since it’s how I ended up playing college baseball.”

13) Wesley Matthews had one of the most painful nights of spills onto the floor that I’ve ever seen. Hopefully he’ll stop flying around so much, because if he doesn’t he’s going to get hurt several times this year.

14) I caught some of the post-game show on the way back, and I continued to be impressed with the observations made by former Marquette star and current play-by-play man Jim McIlvaine. While I miss the comically bad George Thompson, McIlvaine is legitimately good enough to make up for the loss of Thompson’s comic lack of genius. Of course, McIlvaine’s got plenty of time to make astute observations, as his ridiculous NBA contract given out after roughly one month of solid play has set him up for life. And yes, as I’ve mentioned before, he’s my hero for the contract thing. The fact that he’s a good announcer is just gravy.

15) Rough night for Wesley Matthews at back-up point guard. He or someone else had better step into the role, or else there’s a chance of collapse if Dominic James goes down like Travis Diener last year. Seldom is a freshman so vital to his team.

Eventually the game ended, with no truly threatening charge from the Warhawks down the stretch. And here I am now at home. I know the scores of the Duke-BU game and the Wisconsin-Lawrence exhibition (both of which I’m likely to get comments on from friends), and am off to find a UW-Green Bay vs. Washington score. Let’s hope the Phoenix didn’t get worked over in the same manner as last year when Michigan State flat-out embarrassed them. And if I have 15 minutes, maybe I’ll take in some of that Duke game on the DVR box. Until tomorrow...

Warm It Up, Chris

Since I’ve completely abandoned the schedule that I had planned to stick to two weeks ago (not to worry, a UWM roster breakdown is still forthcoming), it seems only appropriate that I want to write about something completely odd today, and discuss warm-up music. In the numerous games that I’ve attended over the last several years, I’ve heard quite a bit of music played during warm-ups. At division one college games, this music typically comes from the band. However, at high school games bands are becoming less and less prevalent, and typically mainstream music is piped in over the gymnasium sound system. This is also occasionally true for some of the division three college games that I’ve attended.

Given the number of warm-ups that I’ve seen over the years, I think I’ve learned a thing or two about what works. With this knowledge in mind, I give you my five key rules for warm-up music at a high school, or low-level college basketball game:

1) If in doubt, choose a hip-hop song.
–After I get through with laying out my rules, I’m going to tell you what I consider to be the last five “warm-up songs of the year.” You’ll notice that all of them are by hip-hop artists. I’m not a big hip-hop guy in my normal life. Chances are that if you find me with my iPod on, I’m listening to The Killers, not 50 Cent. However I realize that what you listen to in daily life isn’t the best thing for every occasion, and hip-hop music is the music of basketball warm-ups. I’m probably one of the lamest white guys I know, but I can recognize that hip hop is great music to move to. And at it’s core, warm-ups are about getting up and moving around. And of course, the selection of hip-hop is also more likely to protect against the choice of music that has a woefully incorrect tone for warm-ups. As a man who helped put together a terrible volleyball warm-up mix in high school that included Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,”(yeah, a slow, grinding hard rock sound will be great to warm-up to...) take it from me–hip hop is the way to go.

2) If you’re still in doubt, choose something by Nelly.
–I’m not sure what it is about the guy, but his songs always seem as if they’re crafted to be athletic warm-up songs. Perhaps this is actually a well-calculated move to gain greater royalties from the playing of his songs at arenas (and judging by the themes of several of his songs, this isn’t that far off). Or maybe Nelly just likes sports. Either way, if Nelly has an album out, it’s a good bet that you’re going to hear his music at a basketball game.

3) If the song is over10 years old, keep it on the shelf.
–Last year I actually went to a game at Carroll College where the songs “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” by Billy Joel and “Beat It,” by Michael Jackson were used in warm-ups. Both are great songs (well, at least “Beat It” is a great song), but neither quite fits for warm-ups. If people are warming up, there should be a current vibe in the room. Stale songs don’t get you ready to play (or watch the game in a sedentary manner from the stands).

4) “Welcome To the Jungle” might still occasionally be a passable song, but for goodness sake, don’t use if your team’s record is 4-15.
–I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of hearing “Welcome To the Jungle” in warm-ups. I think it’s cliched and incredibly played out. That said, in rare circumstances, it can work. Of course, those rare circumstances do not include times when the home team has lost 7 straight games at home. There are few things in life more hilarious than a of 3-10 home team tripping over themselves in warm-ups and welcoming the opposing team to their allegedly impenetrable fortress with this song. It’s not a pit of intimidation if you’ve got a losing record, so don’t even try.

5) If you’re going to play a song, don’t cut it off early.
–Last year I attended one game where the warm-up music was good, but all of the songs were cut off at about 45 seconds. The second that you started enjoying one song, it ended, and another began. No continuity at all, and it was extremely frustrating and annoying to listen to.

Of course, regardless of rules, it seems to me as if every year one song rises to the top. I started noticing this phenomenon about five years ago, and all of the songs have stuck in my head. Thus, I would like to present my list, dating back to the 2000-1 season, of the unofficial high school warm-up song of the year:

2000-01: “E.I.” by Nelly
–To this day the memory of Devin Harris shooting lay-ups to E.I. in a certain local gym that tends not to play the “clean” versions of songs remains vivid in my head. Not the best of the top songs over the years, but in my mind, it’s where the trend of having one standout song started.

2001-02: “#1" by Nelly
–Nelly hit a home run again, actually performing a song that brashly claims that he is #1. If you team is bad, this song runs the risk of being ironically funny, much in the same manner as “Welcome To the Jungle,” but if used correctly, it’s a phenomenally appropriate warm-up song.

2002-03: “Air Force Ones” by Nelly
–Nelly just won’t quit, and again puts out a song that keeps kids warming up. Sure, the reference to a particular brand of basketball sneakers is shameless, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it just worked for the year that it was out. People had really caught on to the Nelly thing, too, so this one was almost totally guaranteed to be played wherever I was seeing a game.

2003-4: “Yeah!” by Usher
–Usher stole this one from Nelly, putting out the rare pop song that I’ve actually really enjoyed over the past few years. Of course, part of Usher’s win this year had to do with his song being played lots of places, but Nelly helped him out, sampling John Tesch’s old NBA theme for his attempt at yet another warm-up song, “Heart of a Champion.” Let this be a lesson, Nelly–if you sample John Tesch, you will lose.

2004-2005: “We Ready” by Archie Eversole, “Let’s Go” by Trick Daddy (tie)
–Last season yielded two standout songs. I heard both of these just about everywhere. Each has its strengths. “We Ready,” though in my mind an extremely sub-par song, has a 30-second intro that just gets you excited to watch hoops. “Let’s Go” is probably the stronger song overall, but part of me thinks that I may be giving it elevated status due to the brilliant use of it by UWM as the song played during player intros. And intros, while also a great time for good music, are not warm-ups per se. And because I can’t quite rectify this in my mind, I’m copping out and making last season a tie.

So where do we go this season? I couldn’t really tell you, as high school season has not kicked off. I’ve enjoyed Kanye West’s (shockingly, no relation to me) “Gold Digger” at the single UWM and Marquette game that I’ve attended so far, but it’s still early. And as usual, the high school kids making the warm-up mixes typically have a much better read on good, current warm up music than the people running the sound system at the Bradley Center. Here’s looking forward to what you have for me this year, kids. For now, I’m going to fire up my iPod and listen to some Herb Alpert. Good thing I’m not warming up for anything.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Marquette vs. Michigan Tech: The Future Begins Now

After seeing both UWM and Wisconsin, tonight took me to see the final of the state’s readily accessible teams for someone located where I live, as I headed to the Bradley Center to take in Marquette’s exhibition game against Michigan Tech. The scored ended up being 71-66 in Marquette’s favor, but as usual, the score doesn’t tell you much about the night. So, on to my bullet points:

1) Talked about all week as a matchup between Steve Novak, of Marquette, and younger brother Chris, of Michigan Tech, the sibling shootout never occurred. Steve Novak sat out the game with an injury, and Chris Novak never got off the bench (at least not that I noticed). Fortunately, post game comments from Tom Crean indicated that the elder Novak was not seriously injured, and his appearance in street clothes was merely a precautionary move.

2) While this wasn’t from the game itself, I happened to be on the road a bit for work today, and got the chance to listen to the last minute or so of Marquette play-by-play man Steve “The Homer” True’s radio interview with Chris Novak during his afternoon talk show. True ended the interview with an inspired question, asking Novak how many letters his sharpshooting brother Steve would have to spot him in a game of horse in order to for Chris to beat Steve 50% of the time or more. Chris is apparently a ridiculously honest man, since he said his brother would have to start with H-O-R-S in order for it to be an even match-up. Either that or Chris severely lacks confidence.

3) Intros were really boring tonight, and I assume that’s mainly because it was the first exhibition game of the season. There were no inflatable men on the floor and no cool videos of the players on the jumbotron. The lights were dimmed for Marquette, the U2 music kicked in, and some spotlights were tossed about. Nothing more. It was a bit too minimalist, though, and I’m expecting better things as the season goes forward.

4) Along with Novak, Mike Kinsella continued his stunning run of games in street clothes, and Ousmane Barro joined in, apparently a victim of illness of some sort. Joe Chapman suited up, but did not play. I had hoped that Chapman had perhaps sat out since he’s the most experienced man on the team, and they just needed to get a look at the freshman guards (yes, I know that would be a ridiculous expectation). In the post game show, though, Tom Crean said that Chapman was riding the pine because he needed to start acting like a senior and taking ownership in the team. I certainly don’t know what the background is here, and I have no idea who the blame lies with, but the fact that a key senior was benched and then called out publicly for a lack of leadership makes me a bit concerned about team chemistry (and Chapman’s role this year).

5) The starting lineup consisted of Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews, Dan Fitzgerald, and Ryan Amoroso. Chapman probably would have started if he wasn’t in the coach’s doghouse, and Novak definitely would have started if healthy. Who knows what would have happened with Barro. Nonetheless, with the exception of Novak taking out Fitzgerald, I wouldn’t be shocked to see this as the starting lineup by year’s end. Well with one other exception, but that leads into my next point...

6) Jamil Lott is very strong, and definitely threw his hat into the ring for a shot at becoming Marquette’s go-to big man. I haven’t been this excited about a new big man’s prospects since James Matthews, who I absolutely loved in the exhibition season two years ago. Let’s hope that Lott, unlike Matthews, has his head screwed on straight.

7) Jerel McNeal has some of the quickest hands that I’ve ever seen. On defense, his hands were constantly in the face of his opponent, and he likely led the way tonight for a team that had a large number of deflections. I still remember him getting pushed around when Joe Chapman bodied up against him at midnight madness, but on the perimeter, he looks to be a solid defender.

8) Fond du Lac native Robby Springborn played most of Michigan Tech’s minutes at the point guard spot, and looked good doing so. Of course, other than his play, the thing that sticks out to me is that his size makes his name seem about as appropriate as can be. I don’t know a lot of guys over the age of 11 that seem to look like a “Robby,” but when you see Springborn play, it seems apparent that someone had some foresight in naming him.

9) Memo to the guy near me in the stands who had on the black leather jacket with orange trim, a ball on the back and the words “Carver Basketball” on it: I want your coat. I’m not sure where I would wear it, since there are limited times in life when a coat making a stealth reference to The White Shadow would be reasonable to wear, but it still seems like a cool thing to have. You’ve got to imagine that 99.9% of the population is probably just thinking that the guy is a coach at some school they’ve never heard of.

10) At halftime, Marquette trotted out their infamous musical chairs contest, which I never thought I’d see again, after last year’s incident where a guy wrecked his knee while shooting a lay-up. Risk management apparently gave their approval, and probably questioned that move when the final two contestants collided at midcourt in a mad dash for the last chair. Both immediately popped up unharmed, but given the game’s history, it had to be a tense moment for those in charge of the game.

11) Seeing Dominic James going to the locker room with an injury was the most horrific sight imaginable to a Marquette fan. Thankfully, James was only gone for a short while, returning to the court later to cross over his defender in frighteningly quick fashion. Did I mention that this guy’s going to be good?

12) As expected, the interior play needs work. Tom Crean managed to put a positive spin on things in his post-game interview, talking about his big men actually working for position and making offensive moves in the post. However, defense and rebounding are not strong suits of any of the 4/5 types that I saw tonight. Michigan Tech didn’t exactly attack the paint tonight, and you could still see the problems. Frankly, I’m frightened to see what might happen when Marquette faces a team with a good center.

13) Poorly executed Kiss Cam on the jumbotron tonight, as it appeared that two of the three couples show during the designated timeout appeared not to actually be romantically linked. One pair was coaxed into kissing on their second time on camera, prompting a reflex in me to make a groaning sound, and the guy in front of me to look back and say to me “you described that well.” The people involved were not unattractive or anything like that, but their effort was perhaps the most awkward, half-hearted attempt at a kiss that I’ve ever seen. In fact it was so poor, I think we might see Marquette go back to the Flex Cam next week.

14) It was good to see Dan Fitzgerald for the first time. I think he’s going to be a solid, but unspectacular addition to the team. About what I expected. He’ll definitely improve his stats over those from his Tulane days.

15) Michigan Tech had a guard by the name of Bob Evans. He has to get kidded about his name all the time. If I was his teammate, I’d constantly be asking him to go out to breakfast with me, or bugging him about how he likes his eggs. And eventually, he’d probably punch me in the mouth. I still hope his teammates are taking advantage of the fact that they’ve got a teammate named after a restaurant chain, though.

16) If you don’t think I’m even more excited about Wesley Matthews after seeing him lead the team in scoring tonight, then you’re kidding yourself.

So you’ve read all of my points and you’re probably thinking to yourself “What the hell is wrong with Chris–Marquette just beat a division two team by a measly 5 points, and he’s dishing out compliments left and right. I must be missing something.” Indeed, I don’t think this game was as discouraging as the score. For one thing, Michigan Tech tossed up a boatload of three-pointers, and simply hit enough to keep themselves in the game. They played largely like those roving teams of former college players that used to play exhibition games. You know they’re not better than the host team, but they just keep hitting threes and hanging around. And that’s not to discredit Michigan Tech at all–they appear to be a fairly good division two team.

Secondly, it was an experimental night for Marquette. Lineups and situations were tested out, and though there are a lot of kinks to be worked out, there are also lots of things to be excited for in the future. Tonight gave a glimpse of the future. As will be the case for most of Marquette’s season, I think it’s safe to say that they’re not anywhere near where they need to be right now, but they’re getting there. They’re definitely getting there.

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