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.