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.