Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Ice Cream Headache

Just wanted to stop by briefly to report that my holiday hiatus will continue through the end of the week. I hadn't originally planned on taking this much time off, but I took in a ton of basketball over the last couple of days, catching just over half the 14 games over two days in the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook Shootout, and enjoying the UWM game on television last night. While it has been fun, I feel like I've consumed too much of a good thing, sort of like when you eat a bowl of ice cream too fast and get one of those ice cream headaches. I knew last night it was serious when I was offered tickets to tonight's Wisconsin game, and declined, not because I couldn't go, but because I just wanted to spend a night at home. So I'm going to take a couple of days to recover and give the full holiday basketball update sometime this upcoming weekend. But don't worry--there's a lot to recap.

Oh, and for those of you who foolishly chose not to attend, the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook Shootout, you missed out. It was a phenomenal event that exceeded my lofty expectations, and I'm already looking forward to next year.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I’ve got to get something out of the way before I get to the meat of today's post–last night I flipped on the Washington State-Utah game on Fox Sports. I always like to see WSU and get a glimpse at former Wisconsin, UW-Green Bay, and UW-Stevens Point coaching legend Dick Bennett. It was just after halftime and WSU was up 45-19 when I tuned in. This may have been one of the most shocking moments of my life. First off, a Dick Bennett team is supposed to take 40 minutes to score 45 points, not 20 minutes. I can’t recall the last time I saw a Bennett-coached team that had jumped out of the gate like that. Second, I used to have a theory about Bennett-coached teams back when he was at Wisconsin and I had more of a chance to see his games. If either team had a lead of more than 4 points, you could effectively double the lead for purposes of figuring out in your head if a comeback was possible, since Bennett’s teams’ tight defense, and less-than-stellar offensive players meant that no one was going to rocket their way back into a game. Thus, although Utah was only down 26 points, it was as if they had to fight back from a 52-point deficit. I’d hate to be a coach who’s losing big to Dick Bennett...

Now on to today’s real topic. Every year about this time, at some point I will hear that old Christmas song proclaiming "It’s the most wonderful time of the year." To be honest with you, I’ve always somewhat disagreed with that sentiment, and wanted to write a remake that reflects the fact that tournament time in March is the most wonderful time of the year. However this year, I feel pretty confident that the song lyric above is as close as it has ever been to toppling March as the most wonderful time. After today, I for one, am in for at least three days of pure joy. December 24 and 25th, of course, are big family days. And then, on December 26, holiday tournament time kicks off.

I have always loved attending high school holiday tournaments, but until this year, the tournament season never totally catered to me. For several years, I was an attendee of the Milwaukee Vincent Holiday Tournament. The Vincent Tournament was a standard four team, two night affair, with two games being played each night. It also seemed to be an excuse each year to set up a Vincent vs. Wauwatosa East final game, much the same way that during my youth Marquette’s Blue and Gold Classic (back when it was the Bank One Classic) used to be an excuse to set up a Marquette vs. Wisconsin final. And last year I had an excellent time attending my first ever Badger Classic at the University of Wisconsin Fieldhouse, where I got my first look at several talented players including Marquette’s Wesley Matthews, Wisconsin’s Joe Krabbenhoft, and Wisconsin recruit J.P. Gavinski.

But something was slightly off about both tournaments. The Vincent tournament suffered the same problem as many other high school holiday tournaments in that it was only four games long. And with rare exceptions, three of the games were not all that intriguing. The Badger Classic was phenomenal in terms of intrigue and volume of games in a two-day period, but required me to drive from Milwaukee to Madison in order to see it. Though not a prohibitive drive, the trip to Madison still ensured that I would kill at least two and a half hours in my car.

But this year all of that changes, and I’m putting my faith in the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook Classic. If you come here on a regular basis, and you’ve not been living in a cave, you probably already know about this event. Two days, fourteen games and countless top-notch high school players and teams, all held in the gorgeous new Al McGuire Center in downtown Milwaukee, ensuring that I can start mainlining basketball without ever having to get on the freeway. And as the name implies, it’s being put on by the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook. If you’ve picked up the Yearbook this year or in years past, I think you know that if Mark Miller, editor of the Yearbook, can put on a tournament in anywhere near as impressive a manner as he can put together a basketball publication, we’re all in for a treat.

If you want comprehensive previews of each game, visit the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook’s website. If you’re too lazy to read a truly informed person’s view, though, here’s my uninformed viewer’s take on why each day one match-up will be worthwhile:

Oostburg vs. Burlington Catholic Central: Rumor has it that Catholic Central is the state’s top ranked division four team. I don’t know much about Oostburg, other than that they’re always good, and the city tends to churn out tall kids in an aberrant manner every year. So if form holds true, they’re probably ranked somewhere high in division three. Small school powers collide!

Whitefish Bay Dominican vs. Appleton Xavier: Last year Dominican won the division three state title, and earlier that season I had the opportunity to see them knock off division one champ Madison Memorial. The key players from last year's squad have moved on to college, but you’d be best advised to get an early look at sophomore Kwamain Mitchell, since you’ll be hearing a lot about him in coming years. I frankly don’t know anything about Appleton Xavier, but assume if they’re in this spot that they’ll be able to give a good game.

Beloit Memorial vs. Kenosha Bradford: I’ll level with you–I know nearly nothing about these teams. But I assure you that the tournament organizer does, and is giving us a good match-up. And even if he’s not, this game is part of the first session of the day, which includes the two games listed above. So if you just want to see, say, Dominican and Oostburg, you can still stick around for this one and it’s not going to cost you a dime.

Nicolet vs. Tosa East: The obvious draw is Louisville recruit Jerry Smith, who’s bound to dazzle everyone in attendance with a smooth dunk, or jaw-dropping assist. But at the end of the day, this is a match-up of two of Milwaukee’s best programs over the last several years. Nicolet alums include Bill Jenkins (Valpo), Bob Jenkins (Valpo), Dan Grunfeld (Stanford), Joah Tucker (UWM), Tanner Bronson (Wisconsin), and Morris Cain (Wisconsin). Tosa East alums include Devin Harris (Wisconsin, NBA), Scott Merritt (Marquette, NBDL), Mike Nabena (UW-Green Bay) and Allan Hanson (UWM). And that’s only going back to the mid-1990s. Who’ll be the next person on this list of distinguished players? Show up and find out.

Milwaukee Pius vs. St. Thomas Academy: Because I read the comprehensive report on the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook website, I know that St. Thomas Academy is located in Minnesota and has a guy who’s going to play for the Gophers next year. So that’s good. Pius, as you know, I saw last week, and they’re on their way to being a very solid team. They're led by the very solid, uber-quick D’Angalo Jackson, who’s the top remaining division one prospect in Wisconsin’s senior class. Two division one prospects, and at least one team that I know is developing nicely. Do you need to know any more?

Milwaukee Vincent vs. Chicago Boys To Men Academy: Remember those lists of division one college players above from Nicolet and Wauwatosa East? Put them together and you still might not have the number of division one ballplayers from Vincent over the past 10 years. And yes, they lost most of their key players from last year’s stellar team, but if I’ve learned one thing in my time watching high school basketball, it's that Vincent always reloads. I can’t name many of their players right now, but I assure you that I’ll be able to by the end of the year. As for the other school, I know nothing about them, but if a school is named "Chicago Boys To Men Academy," and it’s getting invited to a basketball tournament like this, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that they may put some emphasis on the basketball program. So this one should be worth checking out.

Henry Sibley vs. Seymour: Henry Sibley, hailing from Minnesota, is another out-of-state team that I know nothing about. But there are a few reasons to think that they’re a worthy entrant. First, they’re paired up against Seymour, a constant power and prohibitive favorite to win the Wisconsin division 2 championship this year. Second, the winner of this game gets the winner of Vincent vs. Boys To Men Academy, which we’ve already established should be two of the stronger teams at the tourney. And you know that the goal of the tourney isn’t to get anyone blown of the court. So while it’s a given that you’ll get a look at a good Wisconsin team, it’s a good bet that you’ll expand your horizons to a solid out-of-state team as well.

Day two brings back all of the teams except for Beloit Memorial and Kenosha Bradford, who will be replaced by Watertown and Hartland Arrowhead. And though I can’t claim any knowledge of Watertown, I assure you that Arrowhead is more interesting to watch than their current 2-4 record implies.

To say that I’m thankful for such an orgy of basketball to be occurring in Milwaukee would be an understatement. I plan on being there (as should you) for as much of Monday as I can find people to join me for (as of now, most of my favorite game-watching buddies are committed for at least some portion of the day), and for Tuesday night’s evening session after I get off of work. Familiarizing myself with the things that Santa’s left for my under the Christmas tree will have to wait until Wednesday–I’ve got basketball to watch. Hope to see you there.

And with that, I’d like to wish you a safe and happy holiday season (yes, I’m part of the conspiracy!). Updates will be more sporadic over the next week or so as I take a holiday rest, but don’t worry, I’ll still be out there watching as much basketball as I can stomach.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Flippin' Around

Last night was a testament to the calming power that basketball has over me. After fighting crowds for holiday shopping and bringing that pesky consumer problem that has been bothering me for some time to conclusion, I returned home to watch basketball. There was only one problem, though–there was too much basketball to take in. After two nights of virtually nothing, I come home to power teams galore being featured on television.

Thus, rather than doing any sort of game recap, I turned my brain off for two hours, plunked down in my recliner, tossed some new batteries in my remote, and flipped around between games. I saw snippets of each, but not enough to tell an accurate story about any of them. My less-than-intelligent thoughts on each below:

Duke vs. St. Johns: I actually DVR’d part of this one, since I was out shopping, and it looked closer than expected at the half. My most lasting memories of this one are Josh McRoberts repeatedly tossing down alley-oop dunks, Sheldon Williams continually blocking shots, and Lee Melchionni bleeding from the nose. No, I have no idea who plays for St. Johns.

UWM vs. Oakland: This one wasn’t on TV, but since I couldn’t get down to the Mecca for the game, I thought I’d listen in to bits of it on the radio. I can’t say much about the game, other than that UWM seems to be continuing to build steam, and that the more freedom Boo Davis gets to shoot, the better. I can say, however, that I’ve been too hard on UWM play-by-play man Bill Johnson over the years. For a guy who has to call games without a color commentator by his side, he does an admirable job. You try calling a game by yourself sometime and see how it goes.

Illinois vs. Missouri: I flipped the game on after the half when Illinois had already pulled away with a big lead. The game was pretty much over, even though there was lots of time left, so I watched Shawn Pruitt shoot a foul shot, and flipped back to another game. It was all of 20 seconds. The score was enough to confirm to me what I already knew, though: Illinois is going to be just fine this year, and Missouri is constantly going to be underwhelming.

Michigan State vs. UW-Green Bay: If I was a more organized man, I would have called up one of my friends in Green Bay and planned on going to this one, since the Spartans were inexplicably playing at the Resch Center last night. I didn’t see one second of this game, and it certainly wasn’t on the radio here. However, I’m pleased to say that UWGB actually put up a fight this year, after losing to the Spartans by roughly 50 points last season. This year it was only a 29 differential, but word has it that the Phoenix kept it close until the half. That works for me.

Arizona vs. Western Kentucky: Before the season, excellent blogger Cortney Basham who is, among other things, a Western Kentucky expert, told me to keep an eye on the Hilltoppers this year. Since it’s rare that I actually get to see a Western Kentucky game on TV, and they were keeping it close with perennial power Arizona, I actually kept a lot of this game on. It was punctuated by solid outside shooting by the Hilltoppers, gritty play by WKU’s Anthony Winchester (yet another basketball player with ugly tattoos), and a bevy of absolutely ridiculous athletic dunks and other moves by Hassan Adams. That guy seems to get more and more athletic every year.

In any event, the Hilltoppers hung on to take the game to overtime, making up a decent deficit in the final two minutes, but Arizona’s talent was too much to overcome in the overtime period. And I have to say, I’m typically a lot lower on Arizona than everyone else in the world, but I’m still perplexed at how a team with the talent that they have is not sitting somewhere in the top-25.

USC vs. North Carolina: The late game on Fox Sports was fun to check in on. My first thought was that I loved USC’s uniforms, which were very simple, and given the color scheme, are even somewhat reminiscent of Hickory High’s uniforms in Hoosiers. Big thumbs up there. The other thing that stuck out to me is that this is only the second time I’ve watched much of a UNC game this year, and I love that their line-up has completely turned over. I feel like I’ve seen this type of thing at North Carolina before, though. Watching this team reminds me of about a decade ago when I flipped on my first UNC game and Serge Zwikker was inexplicably starting. Sure, he was a Street and Smith All-American, but I didn’t know who he was yet. I guess this makes Tyler Hansbrough the new Zwikker. Should be fun to watch...

My body caught up with me during the late game, though, and I drifted off. A calm that had not existed earlier fell over me, though. Maybe part of it was knowing that I had solved some holiday problems earlier that night, but I like to think that most of it was due to the healing power of basketball.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Night Off...

Last night I took the evening off from watching hoops. Though there were some high school games going on in the area, it would have been a tough night to find anyone to join me in attending one. TV also let me down, as most colleges seem to be in that horrible period where they actually have to take time off to let players study for exams. Add to that a few after-work side trips to complete some Christmas shopping and continue my feud with a major electronics chain, and I just didn't have a lot of time.

So I've got nothing. In the meantime, though, enjoy a couple of fun links. First, here's a nice, comprehensive scouting report (that many of you have probably seen) on how to best defend Teen Wolf. I agree with most things in the report, though I think I disagree that man-to-man isn't an option. Personally, I'd stay in man-to-man, but have the defender who's guarding Chubby sag way off and help. Even on his best night, Chubby simply isn't going to be the one to beat you.

Second, this is unrelated to basketball, but if you didn't catch Saturday Night Live this weekend (I normally don't but I'm glad I DVR'd this one), this is probably the funniest thing I've seen on the show since the legendary More Cowbell sketch.

Back tomorrow with my usual basketball banter...

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Marquette vs. Oakland: Notes on Consistency

It had been some time since I’d been to the Bradley Center for a Marquette game, so last night’s invitation to see the Marquette vs. Oakland game with my friends Dez, Austin and Dave was a welcome one. It was a perfect time to see how Marquette’s stellar, but inexperienced freshmen were coming along, and to see if Marquette had finally settled on a steady rotation of big men. I was pretty much right on with what I expected with regards to both points, but I’ll get to that below:

1) Attendance was down last night, probably in part because of the particularly cold weather outside, but also probably due somewhat to the early (and bizarre) 5:30pm start. It’s taken a few years, but Marquette has finally learned its lesson–in Wisconsin, you don’t go head-to-head with the Green Bay Packers. Well, maybe you do this year, but it’s still a sound scheduling move to work around them in the future. I remember some woefully empty Sunday afternoon Marquette games back in the late 1990s...

2) I’m officially confused by the Marquette intros. Sometimes this year I’ve come to the arena and seen the traditional U2-themed player introductions, complete with this year’s video of the players walking around Milwaukee as giants en route to the game. Last night, however, was also not the first time that I’ve shown up and heard a random hip-hop song replacing the U2, and the phenomenal video of the players as giants was not shown. I don’t ask a lot from intros, but could we just pick one? I like to have some consistency when I get to the arena.
3) Oakland’s jerseys were really cool. The players’ names were placed below the numbers, rather than in the traditional spot on the shoulders. While this made the names somewhat harder to see, it also provided a cool retro look.

4) Rutgers transfer Calvin Wooten is the key player for Oakland, but mark me down as someone who doesn’t really like his game. I will admit that he was integral to the 17-1 run that Oakland used in the second half to come back from a 16-point deficit and tie the game up, but much of what he was actually doing was just driving as close as he could get to the hoop, and whether that was two feet away (which it seldom was) or 15 feet away, just throwing the ball at the basket. For a good portion of the second half, you knew that if he received the ball, no one else on his team was going to touch it. A bunch of his shots went in, but you knew that it wasn’t the type of thing that would work for the rest of the game. And it didn’t, as Marquette pulled away at record speed after Oakland’s brief run.

5) Marquette’s Golden Eagle mascot was dressed in holiday apparel last evening, but it just didn’t quite work. The Eagle was supposed to be Santa Claus, because he was wearing a long, gray beard. However, his costume was not the traditional predominantly red that Santa wears, since that’s not one of Marquette’s colors, and in fact, is a dominant or secondary color for several of Marquette’s biggest rivals (Louisville, Wisconsin and Cincinnati come to mind). Instead, the mascot had a blue costume with gold trim, which along with the beard, essentially made him look like an elderly elf. My suggestion for next year? Let the Eagle wear a proper Santa costume. I think we all know that he’s just spreading holiday cheer, and that he’s not the type to defect to Louisville.

6) Oakland’s Shawn Hopes is a big dude. He’s listed at 6'7" and 275 pounds, and looks more like a football lineman than a basketball center. One of my favorite plays of the night had to be when he had a charge called on him as he took out two Marquette players. The PA announcer took this opportunity to aptly note "Two for the price of one!" I doubt I could have come up with a better line.

7) A booster who was in the stands (okay, courtside seats) last evening received a special birthday greeting on the Jumbotron, complete with a video of all the individual players spliced together singing different sections of "Happy Birthday." Excellent piece here. Two things really stuck out about the video, though. First, Joe Chapman never sang. Instead, he was taped clapping at the end of the song. It sort of seemed like he just didn’t want to sing. Second, Wesley Matthews got the part where you say the name of the person with the birthday, and instead of an actual name, just sang the generic words "Marquette fan." Would it have been that cumbersome to actually work in the person’s name each time? They can’t possibly do more than 4-5 of these birthday wishes all season. Why not pull Matthews aside before practice each time and say "Wesley–we need you to do the song again, but this time use the name "Tom." Okay?" Heck, Tom Crean tapes a 2 minute message to the fans right before every game, so it has to be do-able. And I think it would make the segment even cooler.

8) There were many attempts at alley-oop dunks at the end of the game by Marquette. Let me be among the first to say that Marquette is one of the worst teams that I’ve ever seen at running alley-oops. They toss errant passes and they stubbornly refuse to abandon a play and hold onto the ball when a play is clearly defended. However I’m willing to put up with the 5-1 turnover to conversion rate that running alley oop plays will cause the Golden Eagles if I can see a few more Dominic James alley-oop dunks. There are few things more entertaining than seeing a 5'10" freak of nature pluck a ball out of the air and toss it down on a defender. And just think–we’re 11 games into James’ freshman season, and he’s already doing things like this. Assuming he’s around when he’s a senior, we could see moves that have previously only been seen in the video game NBA Jam. (He’s on fire!!!!) Yes, I’m calling for somersaults in 2008-9.

9) Leading Marquette scorers last night were Jerel McNeal, who did most of his damage in the first half, and Wesley Matthews, who took over in the second half. As usual, Dominic James was his dazzling self, as well. These guys are gelling quicker than even I expected, but it’s still going to be up and down along the way. In that respect, last night’s game was pretty telling. Marquette had two excellent stretches and one horrible stretch. That’s what it’s going to be like as they learn their way. But with the amount of excellent I’ve seen so far, the bright future seems to be coming quicker every day.

10) Here’s Marquette’s breakdown of minutes for post players: Ryan Amoroso (20), Mike Kinsella (16), Ousmane Barro (6), Jamil Lott (5), Chris Grimm (2), Dwight Burke (2). I’ll discount Burke, since his minutes were in garbage time, but after that, you’ve got five guys platooning in one and a half spots (assuming the three guard lineup, and the need to have Steve Novak on the floor). Can this possibly be a good thing? I like making guys compete, but at some point, I’d have to think that this approach has to play with the players’ heads. After all, Barro and Lott have each started games this year, and Grimm has played big minutes in past seasons. Last night they combined for 13 minutes. I guarantee that one of them will be starting again at some point in the next 5-6 games, too. How do you mentally prepare for that? There’s something to be said for consistency, even at the expense of a small bit of motivation.

And with the end of the game, I left the arena to head home like a good Wisconsinite and enjoy the Green Bay Packer game. Actually, I didn’t really want to watch the football game, but we’re coming up on the end of the year, and I have to get a few more hours of Packer viewing under my belt in order to renew my Wisconsin residency. Although, at least if I got deported to Illinois there would still be good basketball to watch...

Monday, December 19, 2005

A Non-Basketball-Related Comment

I'd like to take a moment out from my normal basketball postings to comment on another issue that's been really bothering me lately. Typically, as you know, anything that I post here must be at least tangentially related to basketball in some way. This, however, is the one time since I started writing here that I'm making an exception to that rule. I won't bore you with the details of my story (you're welcome to email me if you care to hear the long, rambling tale), but I would like to request that anyone who's reading this refrain from shopping at Circuit City. I would consider this action a personal favor.

That is the end of my ineffective, juvenile rant against the company that I am currently feuding with. I will return to my normal, basketball-related prose tomorrow morning.

UWM vs. UWGB: The Precursor To Boys' Night

Saturday night in Milwaukee was boys’ night. Every year since I was about fifteen years old or so, I’ve gotten together with a group of six friends to catch up and enjoy ourselves over dinner (and for the last 6 years, drinks). In the last 12 years, there have only been minor changes to the group, and I’ve felt privileged to have such great friends every time we have our event. Because of this commitment, I had pretty much accepted weeks ago that there would be no opportunity to take in the UWM vs. UW-Green Bay game going on downtown on Saturday night.

But over the past couple of weeks, the reality set in that it’s a lot tougher to get people together for such an event when you’re 27 years old. Between some of us having work commitments, school commitments, family commitments, and one of the guys seeming unwilling to go out without his girlfriend by his side, boys’ night was not dissolving, but it was getting a tad diluted. And while this would normally bug me, the plan allowed me to talk two of the guys into joining me at the MECCA to take in the UWM-UW-Green Bay game prior to our abbreviated evening of chatting over drinks at a bar.

So, with my mind geared more towards enjoying an evening with my friends than watching basketball closely, I took in the showdown between the state’s two mid-majors along with my friends Peter and Gus. I’ll warn you that I may lack my usual 3-4 salient basketball points, but I did indeed attend the game, and comparatively speaking, was still more tuned in than a good number of the people around me. My thoughts below:

1) As usual, my friends and I purchased cheap seats. However, rather than the standard upper-level cheap seats, we ended up with seats behind one of the baskets, right behind where the reserved tables for the corporate sponsors who never send anyone to the game are. The inability to clearly see what was going on at the other end of the court, combined with the basket itself being in the way sort of made me feel like a student again. In fact, had I been on the other side of the court, I would have been at the exact center of the student section.

2) Speaking of the student section, the consistent student section that UWM now has speaks volumes about how far the program has come over the last few years. I recall going to my first UWM game back in the 2001-2002 season when the Panthers were still playing at the Klotsche Center on campus. The game was a big one, as they were hosting Wisconsin. I guarantee the number of students comprising a UWM student section did not top 100. Now the Panthers are in an arena that requires some travel on the part of the students, and they’re still drawing much bigger numbers. You can’t beat that.

3) I had never noticed this before, but my friend Peter pointed out that from a distance, UWGB point guard Ryan Evanochko looks sort of like a miniature version of pro wrestler "The Rock."

4) It appears, based on the last couple of games, that Michael Bendall is earning more and more playing time for UWM. Certainly no one’s calling for Adrian Tigert to leave the floor, but it’s always nice to have another backup option at the post spot, even if Bendall’s tattoos are somewhat frightening.

5) Jason McCoy hit two three-pointers for UWM during the game. I guess I should be okay with this, since McCoy did connect on his shots, but I’m still left scratching my head and wondering who allowed him to start shooting the ball from long range. Last I checked, he was a tall, lanky guy whose primary specialty was guarding inbounds passes.

6) Early in the second half, I heard perhaps the worst taunt ever from some loud, obnoxious guys behind us. It was directed at Adrian Tigert. I almost laughed when I heard "You suck Tigert! Have fun playing in Europe!" Come on. If you want to taunt Adrian Tigert, surely you can come up with a better way than telling him he’s going to play pro ball. Isn’t that really a compliment to his game? I mean, it’s not like he was an all-American coming out of high school. He was a chubby post player going to a mid-major. Playing in Europe is probably about the greatest success that he could have hoped for. Next time, go after the fact that he always seems to have gel in his hair, or something else. I wish people would think before they taunt.

7) As usual, the Popeyes Chicken promotion where they have teams of fans compete to see who can catch the most catapulted rubber chickens in a laundry basket was phenomenal. Saturday night’s chicken catchers really had fun with it, and instead of just catching the chickens flung by their respective partners, they started to get physical with one another. One of the guys even plucked a chicken out of the air that wasn’t even flung by his partner. It looked like some bizarro game of 500. Definitely the best installment of this contest that I’ve ever seen.

8) Popeyes really does have a great sponsorship deal, since their other promotion was what kept people in their seats until the end of the game. If UWM dunks the ball five times during a game, everyone can redeem their ticket stubs for free fried chicken the next day at Popeyes. Near the end of the game, the Panthers had four dunks. The game was pretty much out of reach at the four minute mark. Nonetheless, I saw virtually no one leaving the arena early, and a chant of "We Want Chicken!" broke out in the student section. Not bad for an offer that I’d bet very few people actually collect on. Sadly, there would be no fifth dunk, and no free chicken for the masses.

So with the end of the game, it was off to amp up boys’ night with the other two guys who couldn’t make the game. The game was a good start, and the UWM excitement wouldn’t end there, since the tavern that we were retiring to was coincidentally near the UWM campus. Though I don’t think any of us had intended to end up in a college bar, I don’t think anyone would complain about the evening that ensued. And I was just happy to see lots of students out in Panther apparel. The excitement remains strong on campus, from what little I can tell from Saturday.

A Return To Germantown: Letting Go of My Immature Hate

As I noted earlier, it would have been easy for me to stay in last Thursday night and just watch the Wisconsin vs. UWM game on television. But when faced with a friend who wanted to go to a high school game featuring Cedarburg and Germantown, at Germantown High School, I figured it would be good for me to head out to Germantown for the game. It turned out that it was a pretty good game, and featured a handful of talented players that I never expected to see at Germantown or Cedarburg. The game itself exceeded some low expectations that I had. But my attendance that night had a greater significance than simply watching basketball. As such, rather than giving my usual game recap, I’d like to tell my painful story of how I returned to the Germantown gym for the first time in 13 years.

You see, I’ve been carrying around lots of anger since my only prior trip to the Germantown gym. That trip came in 1993 as a wide–eyed freshman playing for my freshman basketball team, back when Germantown was in my school’s conference. It wasn’t what you would call a horrific night by any means. In fact, it was more or less just a moment of slight disrespect that rankles me, but for some reason it has been one of those nights that has stuck with me over the years and continually made me angry when I think about it.

The first hint that my maiden voyage to Germantown would be a rough one was when my team lost our game to a team that we would have beaten nine times out of ten. I could have pushed the loss to the back of my head, though, and been content the rest of the evening. But things didn’t end there. No, there were more indignities to be suffered.

After a long game (that I probably didn’t get into, but definitely warmed up hard for), I headed into the Germantown gym a thirsty boy. I noticed that several of the JV players who had finished their game as well (back in those days, the freshmen teams got shipped to the local middle school and played games at the same time as the JV) were sitting in the stands drinking sodas, so one of my teammates and I headed to find the soda machine. Both of us purchased sodas, and headed back to the gym. Just before entering, I noticed a sign that stated "No Food of Drink Allowed in Gymnasium." Of course, just minutes earlier I had noticed other people openly drinking beverages much like mine while sitting in the gymnasium. I figured, based on what I had seen, that the rules were not real tightly enforced, so I’d take my soda in. A frightened conformist by nature, though, I still somewhat feared the rules, so I tucked the soda in my shirt sleeve, just to be extra safe.

Of course, one of the Germantown supervisors working the game that night saw me the moment that I cracked my soda open. Apparently the rules were now being enforced, as he motioned me down toward him, to the taunts of my teammates and the older JV players. I descended the bleachers and approached the supervisor. I’ll never forget the exchange that came as I got close. I looked at the supervisor and said to him "Sorry about that." After all, I knew that I had broken the rules of the gym and I was indeed sorry about that fact, even if the newly begun rule enforcement left me slightly baffled. The supervisor’s reply to me? "You’re not sorry, studly. I saw you sneak that in under your sleeve."

To this day that reply still pisses me off. When the situation began, I was clearly in the wrong–breaking the rules of the gym. Of course, I recognized this fact, and did the only thing that I could think to do when called on it–apologize and leave the gym until I was done with my drink. What did that approach get me? I was told that my apology was not genuine and then was called a name. Sure, I was a 14 year-old kid who did a dumb (and very minor) thing, so I recognize that I didn’t exactly deserve thanks for being so contrite, but I also didn’t deserve to be called "studly." I angrily gulped the soda down and returned to my seat, annoyed that anyone working in a school setting could show such blind disrespect for a teenager. I spent the rest of the night wishing that I had offered a subsequent reply of "Okay, never mind then. I’m not sorry at all." The good lines never hit your brain until five minutes after the fact, though, and I most certainly would not have had the guts to attempt such a line at the age of 14, anyway.

To my delight, my school shifted conferences the next year, and I was never forced to return to the hated Germantown gym. I definitely thought of the supervisor over the years, and silently wished him ill will. I also vowed to never pay money to see a game at Germantown.

But Thursday night I figured that 13 years was probably enough time to let go of the hate. I returned to the Germantown gym, eager to watch a game and remain un-hassled. I saw no one old enough to be the supervisor that I had dealt with so many years ago. In fact, to my delight, it occurred to me that the supervisor that I had dealt with was likely too old to be a teacher there anymore. The people that I did see patrolling the gym were generally respectful, and helpful to attendees. So it is now official–my demons have been exercised, and when the event presents itself, I will be happy to return to the Germantown gym. Thank goodness the era of the rogue supervisor is over.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Wisconsin vs. UWM: A Confusing Battle

With the Wisconsin-UWM game last evening, any normal fan in my position would have gone home, whipped up a magnificent pasta dish, and parked him or herself in front of the television to catch the 7pm game. Obviously, I’m no normal fan, though, so when a friend of mine asked me "Do you want to go see Cedarburg play at Germantown," I excitedly accepted the invitation to watch an unhyped high school game, and let my DVR box do the work on the battle of the Wisconsin state school powers. Of course, having not been to Germantown High School since I was 14 years old, I had forgotten just how far away it is, so it was already a late night for me before I sat down to watch the big game on TV.

Thus, rather than update on the whole night, I’d like to concentrate on the Wisconsin-UWM game. Of course, I won’t let the high school game die, because I have some important things to say about my first trip to the Germantown gym in 13 years, but tonight was a big night for the state of Wisconsin. Or at least the two cities that I’ve lived in. Game thoughts below:

1) Of course, the most intriguing match-up of the night was Alando Tucker vs. Joah Tucker. It was all there–undersized forward vs. undersized forward, guy named "Tucker" vs. guy named "Tucker," go-to guy vs. go-to guy. And to top it off, Alando Tucker and Joah Tucker are both probably among the top few small forwards in the country, and play for rival schools. The match-up got off to a quick start, with the first few points of the game scored by someone with "Tucker" on his jersey, but then let down quite a bit with Joah Tucker’s foul trouble.

2) Early in the game, there was a stoppage of play for a bit as the shot clocks went off. During discussion of what was going on, announcer Craig Coshun mentioned that glitches like this come up from time to time, noting that the floor in the Kohl Center gets changed around a lot, between men’s and women’s basketball sharing the Kohl Center with hockey. Maybe I’m missing something here, but how would repeatedly changing the floor out have any effect on the electrical system running the clock? I guess Coshun needed to fill time, but that just seemed like a non sequitur to me.

3) A lot has been made over Alando Tucker’s wearing of his protective mask to protect a nasal injury. After two slump games, people have been constantly wondering if the mask is hindering his play. I doubt that it is, but it’s a convenient thing to talk about. Nonetheless, I was a bit taken aback when announcer Coshun made a comment after Tucker got off to a hot start in the first 8 minutes or so that it seemed clear that Tucker was past problems related to the mask. Two slump games followed by 8 good minutes and you’re clear on that, Craig? I never even thought the mask was a problem, and I wasn’t totally clear on that yet.

4) If you’re Rob Jeter going to sleep the night before your first game against your mentor, Bo Ryan, what do you think the worst nightmare that you could have is? Aside from injury, or something totally implausible like a tiger getting loose in the arena and mauling Avery Smith, I’m guessing that it would be getting down 20 points and Joah Tucker heading to the bench with four fouls with six minutes to go in the first half. I couldn’t come up with many plausible situations that would be worse. As it was, Tucker with four fouls seemed pretty implausible.

5) Did everyone else see Joah Tucker slam the floor with his hand after his third foul, leading to the technical foul that would send him to the bench with four fouls? The reckless disregard for his right hand was unbelievable, as he really pounded his fist hard into the floor. Note to self-don’t get into a bar fight with Joah Tucker, because you will end up needing reconstructive surgery.

6) Fantastic run by UWM to fight its way back into the game, erasing the 20-point lead of the Badgers and even getting a brief lead of their own. What was most fun to watch about this comeback was the fact that the Panthers showed some glimpses of the 2004-5 UWM team. No, they didn’t turn the Badgers over with a choking press, and they didn’t run wild all over the floor, but no one can deny that Boo Davis’ conscious-less three-point shooting was a big part of willing UWM back into the game. Davis still looks at times to me like a guy who might not even know how the new offense is run, but he’s just a play maker. And his shooting last night was reminiscent of former teammate and last year’s Horizon League player of the year, Ed McCants.
7) Great halftime commercial last night for the Communication Arts department at Wisconsin, one of my two programs of study in college. I was just going to fast-forward through the commercials at halftime to get to bed earlier, when I alertly recognized one of the most bland professors that I’ve ever had (he was a good teacher, just not a real dynamic guy) being showcased in a commercial. The gist of the commercial was that Wisconsin is a great place to study film and mass media. Having completed the requirements for a major in the Radio, Television & Film track (named such, in spite of the fact that there was only one radio course offered during my time there) of the Communication Arts department, I don’t know that I agree with the message of the commercial. However, I was still sold on the department, because anyone making a commercial that could make my old professor look interesting is accomplishing a major feat.

8) Joah Tucker re-entered the game at about the 13:30 mark in the second half, after UWM had clawed back into the game. And he was nearly lost before the clock hit 13:00 when one of the refs nearly charged him with a foul that he clearly did not commit. Thank goodness for the miracle of instant replay (which was used more than usual last night), because the refs were able to examine the tape and ensure that they didn’t make a terrible game-changing call.

9) I’ve been noticing lately that when Brian Butch makes different faces he looks like different people. Most people talk about him looking like the kid who plays Dewey on "Malcolm In the Middle," which is a fair assessment. A couple games back, I saw Butch’s profile, and he looked like the spitting image of my friend The Franchise (who as a Marquette fan would hate this assessment). And last night when he made an angry face, he strangely reminded me of young actor D.J. Qualls. Funny thing is, Butch never consistently resembles any person, but seems to look like a whole bunch of them at various times. One can only guess who he’ll look like next week. My money’s on a good Danny DeVito face.

10) I probably say this enough already, but I like Adrian Tigert more every time that I see him.

11) I’d like to give myself some props on yesterday’s score prediction. Though in a pathetic roundabout manner (which I didn’t even notice at the time) I managed to indirectly predict a UWM upset, a Wisconsin blowout, and a somewhat close Wisconsin win. At some point during the game, all of the above were on the verge of occurring, so maybe I knew what I was doing when I was unwittingly hedging my bets by littering my prediction with modifiers yesterday. And of course, my ultimate score prediction was 73-64. The game ended up 74-68. Not to shabby if you ask me, and definitely better than last year when I predicted that the UWM-Illinois NCAA tournament game would result in anything but a basic 14-point win for Illinois, and the Illini won by, you guessed it, 14 points.

So the Badgers won, defeating their third in-state foe of the past two weeks, and UWM again showed that it’s toughening up and will be a force to be reckoned with in the Horizon League. You couldn’t ask for too much more if you’re a fan of basketball in the state. Actually, I could ask for a bit more sleep, but that’s not the fault of Wisconsin and UWM–that’s on me for deciding to drive 35 minutes to a totally random high school game on a snowy Thursday night.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

More To Come, I Hope

I had a non-basketball-related commitment last evening that left me with roughly 20 minutes of free time for the night, so no, I don't have any pre-game thoughts worked up on Wisconsin-UWM, other than to say that I'm supremely excited. Obviously Wisconsin has to be favored, but with the way that the Badgers have been squeaking out games, and the way that UWM sounds (since I'm never able to see them!) like they're on an upswing as they get comfortable with their new system, anything is possible. This would be the perfect time for an upset. (Of course, the same thing could have been said last season, and Wisconsin blew UWM off the court.) Nonetheless, I'll take a stab at the score and say Wisconsin 73, UWM 64.

And who knows--maybe I'll pump out a mini-update later today if I have a spare moment (though this is unlikely, given today's work schedule). I did get all of my research done for a game preview last night--I just didn't have time to write it.

So if you don't hear from me again, enjoy the game. I know I will.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Pius vs. Arrowhead: A Tuesday Night Grinder

Before the game recap, a special thanks to the few of you who informed me yesterday that North Dakota’s Goodwill Ambassadors will be performing at halftime of the Wisconsin-Michigan State game on January 8. And here I thought that no one knew what I was talking about. I guess those ladies really are spreading goodwill on behalf of North Dakota.

Oh, and an extra special thanks to the gentleman that let me know that during halftime of the February 8 Wisconsin-Indiana game, a young man by the name of "Rubberboy" will be performing. Mike Davis and Rubberboy on the same court? I am officially intrigued.

As for last night’s game, I’ve been wanting to see Milwaukee Pius since the season began, and tonight was my chance. A lot of people would tell you that a game between 1-2 Arrowhead and 1-3 Pius might not be that interesting, but I thought it was a stealthy pick, since both teams have played a couple of challenging early-season games already. For the most part, their losses have come at the hands of good teams. In addition, there were no other marquee games on the slate, so it seemed logical to get my first look of this season at Pius’ D’Angalo Jackson, one of the state’s top players. Oh, and the fact that Pius is really close to my apartment didn’t hurt, either. So after my drive over, here’s what I was thinking:

1) Over the years I’ve become accustomed to a standard $3 entry fee for high school games. But tonight the ticket to the Pius game was $4. I haven’t been to enough games this year to know if it’s a trend. My fear, however, is that this is going to turn into something sort of like my senior year of college, when inflation caught up to everyone and no one was quite sure if the standard price of attending a house party was $3 or $4. At $4, you sort of felt like you were getting taken by the hosts, but at $3, you were left wondering if you were attending a party that didn’t merit a higher price tag. All I ask is that the high schools pick a standard price, even if it’s the higher $4 fee–I don’t want to go through those type of mental gymnastics again.

2) Pius, as many people likely know, moved into a new fieldhouse last year. It’s a really nice facility, and it appears that everything that was done was done in a first-class manner. That said, it lacks some of the charm of the old Pius gym. The old gym was dark, had a strange seating layout, and was generally not that nice. But there was just something really cool about it. It’s sort of like the difference between the Kohl Center and the old Fieldhouse at Wisconsin. The new one is nice and comfortable, but you can’t help but think fondly of the times that you spent in the old, worn-out venue.

3) Tonight, because it wasn’t a packed gym, it was pretty easy to hear the PA announcer, but I guarantee that if it had been a bit busier, I would have heard various people around me asking "Did that guy just say Willie Nelson?" when Pius’ Willie Nellen was introduced. I know, because it’s happened at every Pius game I saw last year.

4) There are a lot of good high school nicknames in the state of Wisconsin, but I’ve always enjoyed the fact that Pius’ nickname is "The Popes." What better mascot than the head of the Catholic church? Perhaps the only thing more entertaining is the fact that the girls teams are referred to as "The Lady Popes." When you hear these things every day, sometimes you forget how great they are.

5) The first quarter ended with a score of 6-5 in Pius’ favor. If not for a scoring outburst in the final 20 seconds, the score would have been 4-2 in favor of Pius at the end of the quarter. Lots of decent shots went up, but nothing seemed to fall, and both teams remained wickedly patient on offense. So yeah, it was a rough quarter to watch.

6) It’s really rare these days, given the way that the game of basketball has changed over the years, that you ever see two actual centers on the floor at the same time. But that’s exactly what happened tonight when Arrowhead’s Kevin Solwold was in the game against either of Pius’s big men, Keith Queoff or Brad Zuiker. In particular, I saw some nice physical play down low between Zuiker and Solwold. How I miss the days of bruising centers...

7) The game was a sloppy game in a lot of ways. This would probably challenge for the most traveling calls that I’ve ever seen. I’m guessing that there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 or so. I would expect both of these teams to be a little more cautious with the ball.

8) Tonight was the first time in all my years of watching high school basketball that I’ve ever seen a coach ejected from a game. It was pretty anti-climactic. Arrowhead’s head coach was tossed early in the fourth quarter after picking up a second technical foul. Neither the first or second technical foul was related to any sort of huge outburst from the coach, and while I understand how the first one came about (it was one of those game-long things that built until a ref finally snapped), I was sitting somewhat near the ref who made the second call, and I missed whatever he heard. After a calm conversation with the refs, the coach eventually left the floor with his head shaking in disbelief. Not exactly the violent outburst that you expect to lead to an ejection.

9) If I’m a guard, Pius is one team that I don’t want to have defending me. On the occasions that Pius started trapping Arrowhead’s guards, they looked like they could cause some serious havoc.

10) D’Angalo Jackson didn’t have the opportunity to totally showcase his skills in a tight, low-scoring, physical game, but did show off some of his quickness in the final quarter, blowing by a defender or two in impressive fashion. And when I saw the box score this morning, I was frankly shocked to see that he scored 29 points. This sounds absurd, particularly in a game where his team only scored 51 points, but it was a really quiet 29 points. Nothing flashy–Jackson just got the job done.

11) What intrigued me more about Jackson, though, is that the announcer was referring to him as "Dee Jackson." I assume, since this was at his home school, that they would know his usual nickname, and this would be it. But I’m wondering if I got the manner in which it should be written correct. Is the name, in fact, written as "Dee Jackson?" Is Jackson just going by his first initial, and should "D. Jackson" be the proper way of writing it? Or is he looking to just use the first part of his name, and should it be "D’ Jackson?" Yes, these are the things that go through my head during down time at games.

12) I think Pius will actually improve quite a bit this year. Several of their passes tonight were just a split-second slow, but guys were definitely getting open in good spots on the floor. I can only imagine that the comfort level among the teammates will rise as the season goes on.

So after a fourth quarter that was extended by fouls, numerous traveling calls, the ejection, and even a minor injury timeout, Pius walked off the floor with a 51-38 victory. It was low-scoring and wasn’t the most electrifying game I’ve been to all year, but it was a game between a couple of capable teams. I’ll definitely be back to Pius for another game this year, and not just because the school is located really close to my apartment.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

An Evening Devoid of Basketball

For some reason last night, there was no basketball on television (other than an 11pm tape delay of the Wisconsin game) and no good games (at least that I could find) being played in the area. Thus, I was sort of left out in the cold for games that I could watch. With no recap today, then, here are a few basketball-related thoughts that have been bouncing around my head for a bit:

1) For awhile I thought that God was trying to keep me from watching more than one UWM game in person this season. Now, thankfully, some of my plans have changed this upcoming weekend, and while I don’t want to jinx anything, there’s a decent chance that I’ll actually get to go to the UWM-UW Green Bay game. I miss the Mecca...

2) It might just be that the Kohl Center has a great sound system, but Wisconsin’s public address announcer is simply phenomenal. I wish I could hire that guy to announce my presence when I entered a room.

3) If I had the chance to see a game played in any arena in the country, I think I’d like to head down to Oklahoma State’s Gallagher-Iba Arena for a game. That place has scared the crap out of me ever since Byron Houston was there, and I’ve always wondered what it would be like to actually go there.

4) I see that the NCAA, along with CBS and CSTV, is putting all of the NCAA tournament games on the internet this year, with the exception that games that are already being televised in a person’s home market won’t be accessible to them. Great idea, but excluding home markets is the huge flaw in this plan. While I recognize that CBS doesn’t want to jump start something that would cut into their own ratings, would the internet streams of games really do this? I know I’d rather watch an HD broadcast of the game on my living room television than a pixilated picture on my tiny computer monitor.

But there is one place that I would watch a computer-streamed game, and that’s my office. And that’s not cutting into CBS’s TV action, since there’s probably no better than a 5% chance that I’d think of bringing a TV into my office to see a game. Of course, if I’m going to take time out and ruin my work day, I’d just assume that I get to watch one of my home teams, which under this plan, I’ll never get the chance to see on my office computer. So basically, I get to see a bunch of games that I only sort of want to watch, and CBS makes nothing off the deal. If you offered games on an ala carte basis, though, and included local market game, I guarantee I’d end up buying a game or two in my home market. I’d see what I wanted, CBS wouldn’t lose my viewership (they never really had it, since I was stuck in the office without TV) and they’d still be making money off me. How can no one see this?

5) Another quick question that’s bugging me about these planned free internet streams of games: Last year CSTV offered the same set up, only there was a subscription fee to see the tourney games (I believe $14.95, if my memory is correct). The first day, the system overloaded with users and was nearly impossible to get on. If CSTV couldn’t handle the type of traffic coming from a group of subscribers last year, who’s upgraded the system to handle the massive amounts of people that will be checking in to see if they’ve got any shot in their pool?

6) While listening to last night’s Wisconsin-UNC Wilmington game on the radio, I wasn’t sure if the fact that it was tied 16-16 at the half was motivation to go to sleep at a reasonable hour and skip the Wisconsin Public Television tape replay, or if it was motivation to stay up and watch the debacle. In the end, I tried to stay up, but just couldn’t keep my eyes open.

7) I’ve said it before, but if you order ESPN Fullcourt and you aren’t doing it because you live out of range of the local broadcasts of your favorite team, you officially have a problem.

8) There’s been plenty of talk lately about how Steve Novak just became Marquette’s all-time leader in foul shooting percentage. That’s an awesome feat. Of course, the fact that it happened this week isn’t due to some hot foul-shooting streak that he’s on (although, he is on one of those), but rather is attributable to his finally breaking the 200 mark (the minimum for an official, historical percentage at Marquette) for shots attempted. How can a guy like Novak, who’s 6'10", has played meaningful minutes since his freshman year, and largely been injury free, take so long to get to 200 foul shots? Maybe he should drift inside the three-point arc once in awhile. Again, the record is awesome, but I find it kind of weird how it reveals Novak’s biggest strength and biggest weakness at the same time.

9) If anyone knows when North Dakota’s Goodwill Ambassadors will be appearing at halftime of a Wisconsin game this season, let me know, because I’d like to be there. Yeah, there are probably only about 5 people out there who understand what I’m talking about, but I guarantee that those 5 people want to see the performance as well.

10) I read a great article last night about Adam Morrison in the most recent ESPN Magazine. How do you not love a guy who got into an impromptu televised boxing match only months into arriving on campus, wears that great mustache, and readily admits that he doesn’t play much defense? With the hype he’s receiving this year, I’m not counting on it, but if there’s a guy who just might be insane enough to turn down NBA dollars and stick around another year to torment St. Mary’s, it’s probably Morrison.

Sorry about the day of random thoughts. I promise I’ll be at a game tonight. The only question is where...

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Wauwatosa East vs. Marquette High: Rivalry Weekend Kicks Off

Friday night kicked off rivalry weekend for me, with bitter conference rivals Marquette High and Wauwatosa East squaring off at the Al McGuire Center. As luck would have it, I needed to be in downtown for work on Friday afternoon, so I was able to meet up with friends beforehand and trot over to the game with ease. My thoughts below:

1) Any game in the Al McGuire Center is a special one, and in particular, you can’t help but love a regular season game like this being held there. Traditionally Marquette-Tosa East is a tough ticket, no matter which gym the game is being held in. Kudos to whoever came up with the idea to shift at least the Marquette-hosted portion of the series to the McGuire Center. The space there allowed any fan who wanted to see the game to do so. And that can’t always be said for a rivalry game like this.

2) I make a lot of decisions at games not based on actual desires, but on principle instead. And that’s exactly why I bought myself a cup of Dippin’ Dots while on the way to my seat. I’m not actually a big fan of Dippin’ Dots, but two things necessitated the purchase. First, it’s not everyday that you can get a cup of Dippin’ Dots at a non-tournament high school game. You have to take that opportunity when it’s there. Second, I’m not sure how the ice cream of the future has made it back to our primitive time, but since it has, I feel as if I should occasionally partake in the treat so that I can get some sense of what people are like in the future.

3) This game, again due to the rivalry factor, is typically a banner night for student section cheering from two spirited student sections. To be honest, while both sections were solid, neither came up with the creativity that I’ve seen in years past. Part of that might very well have had to do with the placement of the student sections behind each basket. When the students are that far from one another, they can’t really play off of one another as easily as they do in a small high school gym.

4) While I generally kind of liked the student sections behind each hoop, I would have liked to have seen a setup where teams were shooting into the opposing student section in the second half, rather than in the first half. As it was, the Tosa East student section pulled out some Duke-like moves while Marquette players shot foul shots. The potential for things like that would be awesome down the stretch of a tight game.

5) While I was impressed by my friend Beau when we went to the Wisconsin-Pepperdine game last weekend and he busted out a homemade scouting report on Pepperdine, I was almost frightened when he broke out his homemade scouting reports on Marquette and Tosa East. Where is he even getting this information? The man is nothing, if not dedicated. I definitely know how we’ve become good friends.

6) Marquette’s Dan Landisch opened the game strong, canning two three-pointers within about the first minute. Last season I wrote some comments that were somewhat critical of Landisch, a strong 6'6" forward, for spending too much time playing on the perimeter. These shots, along with several other plays in the game have shut me up a bit with regard to this topic. Landisch is an excellent athlete who can do lots of things normally only done by smaller players. Of course, I still think he could be an absolute beast down low if he spent more time there, but that might just be my big-man bias speaking.

7) It was a relatively quiet game for Tosa East star Jerry Smith, scoring only 15 points (yes, you’re pretty good when that’s a modest evening). His shooting touch was a bit off on Friday night, but he was at least able to put down a sweet reverse dunk on a breakaway. I’d say that seeing that was worth about $2 of the $5 price of admission.

8) I got a lot of comments from friends who saw the Wauwatosa East-Milwaukee Lutheran game bugging me about how I didn’t mention Tosa East's Jeff Donovan after his excellent game earlier in the week. My write-up ignored him, while the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article about the game was basically constructed around Donovan’s play. Why didn’t I mention him? Well, basically I knew he’d have more games where he was just as solid, and I wanted to use my limited time to comment about another player who I thought had a great game. Jerry Smith’s the star of Tosa East, but Donovan holds everything together with his consistent, rock solid play. When you see him play basketball, it’s almost frightening to think that most people believe that basketball is his third best sport.

9) I give credit to a Marquette team that graduated most of their key players from last season and unfortunately lost two of their better returning players to injury before the season. I was sort of expecting a lopsided game, but Marquette still fielded a team of nice athletes and kept the game close before Tosa East pulled away down the stretch. Even if the Hilltoppers don’t have their usual list of heralded names on the roster this year, they’ll still win some tough games.

10) As I left the McGuire Center, I couldn’t help but think what a great facility it is for Marquette University to have, and what a fine place it was to watch high school basketball. I’m even more excited for the upcoming Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook Shootout now that I know how great a single game can be. In fact, I can think of another event or two that should be held at the McGuire Center, but that’s a rant for another day...

So the hard-fought intra-conference battle ended in Tosa East victory. And I walked away smiling after a good game, and knowing that the next day would bring even more rivalry excitement in the form of the annual Wisconsin-Marquette game at noon. Yes, it was a good weekend to be me.

Wisconsin vs. Marquette: My Perfect Outcome

Ah, the Marquettte-Wisconsin game. For years when I was in school, it was pretty much a given that I would be attending this game. Between having my student tickets in Madison, and usually being able to find a spare pair of tickets from a friend in Milwaukee for the Marquette game, it was pretty much a tradition for me.

For a variety of reasons this year, however, I opted against attempting to buy some scalped tickets outside of the Kohl Center, and spent the afternoon with 6 friends (all of us with a decided Wisconsin lean, except for my friend Dez, who bravely showed up wearing a Marquette t-shirt) watching the game in my living room. Of course, since the severely underwhelming Duke-Texas game was on during roughly the same time period, I broke out my box of A/V cables and splitters to rig up a two television set-up. Not exactly my annual four television March Madness extravaganza, but not to shabby, considering the games at hand.

Things worked out pretty much exactly as I had hoped (give or take some odd stat lines), given my status as a fan of both programs, who happens to like Wisconsin just a bit more. My thoughts below:

1) Early in the first half the television broadcast got off to a great start when they showed a close up of Brian Butch’s angry face after he drew a charge (I think that’s what it was–I can’t recall exactly) on a Marquette player. I have yet to meet anyone who can take Butch seriously when he scowls. It may be the most hilarious facial expression in all of basketball.

2) A close second for the most hilarious facial expression in basketball would have to be Bo Ryan’s “I can’t believe you just made that call” look when talking to refs. Never before has a mere facial expression so clearly concealed anger so well, and only outwardly shown disbelief..

3) When you look at Wisconsin’s starting five, the guys that you worry about beating you on offense are Alando Tucker, Brian Butch, and Kammron Taylor. So I, along with the rest of the world, am currently confused by the fact that the play of Ray Nixon and Jason Chappell won this game for Wisconsin. Meanwhile, none of the stars for either team had much of a day, with the exception of an early scoring streak for Steve Novak, who hit three three-pointers (And yes, I know that the official box score says he only had two. I still don’t buy that call by the refs when they stopped the game and changed one of his shots to a two-pointer, so I’m giving Novak an extra three-pointer in my unofficial stats.)

4) Focusing in on Nixon, maybe the best thing that I saw about him on Saturday is that he finally played within himself, and didn’t pressure himself to do something great. One can only hope that things are clicking for Nixon, and he’ll finally start just calmly taking what the defense gives him, and using his long arms to get in people’s way on the other end of the floor.

5) There are certain codes that announcers tend to use in basketball, and one of them that I have always enjoyed is when a big man is referred to as “an excellent passer.” Typically, this is code for “guy who isn’t that great, but that we need to say something positive about.” I bring this up only so that I can clearly explain that I’m not trying to use “excellent passer” in a negatively coded manner and truly mean it when I make the following observation: Jason Chappell is an excellent passing big man. He had three phenomenal assists that I saw yesterday, and had proved quite adept at tossing lob entry passes in to his fellow big men during high-low situations. With skills like this, Chappell continues to make my long-time obsession with disliking him look foolish.

6) Does watching Ed Hightower make over-exaggerated foul signals ever get old?

7) By my count, in a living room full of humorous men, we had only three Unfrozen Caveman Basketball Coach references throughout the game. Not a bad number, but I think we can do better next year.

8) Saddest moment of the day: I was sitting in my living room at one point and the room was equally divided between guys who were drinking beer, and guys who were drinking Tab. I suppose it’s my fault for stocking my soda machine with Tab, but half a roomful of 20-something men who are forsaking beer and sugared soda in favor of diet soda is still scary. There’s only two types of people that pick the diet soda over the sugared soda: women and adults. And up until now, I never considered a roomful of men watching basketball to be “adults.”

9) In the second half, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player pick up four fouls more quickly and during four less foul-worthy plays than Dan Fitzgerald. I generally like Fitzgerald, and think he’s a very valuable cog for Marquette, but how can he repeatedly foul guys on the perimeter? Of course, he certainly wasn’t the only Marqette player to have difficulty with fouls on Saturday.

10) So it’s official, I’m back for another season of appearing in the Big Ten sportsmanship commercial (I’m the wild-eyed Wisconsin fan with the goatee) that’s shown at halftime of games involving Big Ten teams. I had sort of figured that after two years of running the commercial, they might work in a new shot of the Wisconsin student section. You know, one that doesn’t involve a guy who’s now nearing 28 years of age. I mean, if I’d known that those cameras that came by the section were actually recording something, I’d have payed way more attention to my pre-game grooming during my last season in the student section.

11) I still scratch my head at the fact that Jamil Lott continues to get virtually no minutes for Marquette after looking like the most talented post player during the first couple of games of the year. I suppose rebounding has improved somewhat for the Golden Eagles (and this surely is the reason that Lott’s riding the pine) since Ousmane Barro replaced Lott in the starting line-up and Barro and others began to take his minutes. But other than Ryan Amoroso, no one’s exactly set the world on fire with their play. I’d like to see more Lott.

12) Speaking of rebounding for Marquette, Dominic James tied for the lead in rebounds for Marquette on Saturday. This begs the question–when your 5'10" point guard is your leading rebounder, is he just really awesome, or is your team absolutely terrible at rebounding? I’m going to say it’s probably a bit of both.

13) One can’t talk about Marquette without talking about their three freshmen guards. Consensus seams to be that they didn’t have a great game. And while it’s tough to deny that Jerel McNeal was severely hindered by his foul trouble, and that Wesley Matthews was probably not playing at much more than an “average” level for him, I thought Dominic James had a pretty nice game. The stats seem to bear this out, as a check of the box score reveals that James had 10 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists. Not exactly an off night, if you ask me. I understand that between the three of them, Marquette’s looking for a few more points than it got on Saturday afternoon, but it certainly isn’t as if they stunk up the Kohl Center,either.

And so the game ended in a sweet 14-point victory for Wisconsin. As I’ve noted, it was about as perfect a game as I could have hoped for in terms of outcome. Wisconsin won, and Marquette, though they lost, didn’t get blown off of the court and lose confidence. Both are in a nice place going forward this season, helping to keep my basketball watching interesting for the time being. As for the next couple of seasons, I might have to start searching for tickets again, because with the young talent on both of these teams, this game is going to be a war for years to come.

So after another hour or so of random televised games with the boys, I set off for Oshkosh to take in the UW-Oshkosh vs. UW-Stout game. Unfortunately, my late start, and lack of attention to directions put me in Oshkosh a bit too late to catch the game (which I’ve since heard came down to a last-second shot). And while I was disappointed, I was also still feeling the warmth from rivalry weekend. And I’ll be coasting on that feeling for awhile...

Friday, December 09, 2005

Rivalry Weekend!

A few things to note today. First off, while I tend to believe that a write-up of either the UWM-South Dakota State game that I watched on TV, or the Wisconsin-UW-Green Bay game that I attended would be stale at this point, I’d like to get out a couple of random points about them, lest I should forget about them completely over time.

1) UWM’s getting closer to where they need to be with the new offense. I still think they’ll be deadly within their own conference, but fail to make waves in anywhere near the fashion that they did last season during the tournament.

2) So it appears UWM announcer Daron Sutton will be developing a one-game man-crush for every game this season. Against Memphis, it was Avery Smith. Against SDSU, it was Mark Pancratz. While I still think Sutton’s a bit over-the-top in his focus on one player once he gets excited, he’s got two things going for him so far. First, although Smith had a fairly uninteresting game against Memphis as Sutton was raving about him, he does appear to be rapidly improving, and becoming a key member of the Panther team. Second, Pancratz did take three charges against SDSU, so maybe some of Sutton’s praise was appropriate.

3) The stats don’t bear it out, but against Green Bay, Alando Tucker had one of the more impressive games that I’ve ever seen out of him. It seemed like he could just score if he felt like it in the second half. This is a much closer game without him. Yes, I know that’s pretty much always true, but this game finally drove home to me just how important Tucker is to the Badgers.

4) If you want a good approximation of what the Wisconsin-UW-Green Bay game looked like, look no further than my thoughts on the high school game the night earlier, because they were eerily similar. UW-Green Bay, much like Milwaukee Lutheran, was shooting an unbelievable percentage, and simply wilted in the second half when they couldn’t keep it up. And well, Wisconsin played with a bit more energy, as well.

5) Green Bay does, indeed, have lots of good young talent, and should, as advertised, be good in the future.

Enough of the distant past, though, since it’s rivalry weekend around these parts! The big one, of course, is the Marquette-Wisconsin game on Saturday afternoon. However, tonight Wauwatosa East and Marquette High also square off at the Al McGuire Center in perhaps the best public school-private school rivalry in the state. Both games are exciting to me because while I generally have tended to cheer for Marquette teams over the years, my education has come from the schools that fall on the non-Marquette side of the matchup. So if it wasn’t readily apparent to you beforehand (which it probably was), I’m going to have some major bias in favor of Wisconsin and Tosa East this weekend. Afterward, I’ll go back to cheering for the Golden Eagles and the Hilltoppers, but for the next two days, I’m forced by my past to hate all things named Marquette.

In anticipation of the games, however, I’d like to offer one of my non-traditional match-up breakdowns of the starting five for the college game.

The Ridiculous Athletes
(Marquette’s Dominic James vs. Wisconsin’s Alando Tucker)
Tucker has a vertical leap that’s unmatched in the history of Wisconsin basketball (okay, given Wisconsin’s history, that’s not saying much). James can dunk a ball with more ease than any 5'10" guy I’ve ever seen. Both are probably the most important players for their respective teams.

Edge: Tucker, because he’s an older, more proven player, even if he got shut down against Marquette last year in one of the most inexplicable man-on-man match-ups (vs. Chris Grimm) that I’ve ever seen.

The Tall, Skinny White Guys Who Are Bad In The Paint
(Marquette’s Steve Novak vs. Wisconsin’s Brian Butch)

Novak is probably the best spot-up shooter in college basketball, and is one of the most accurate shooters I’ve ever seen. He also attacks the hoop like a 14-year old girl who doesn’t want to mess up her uniform. To his credit, though, he’s been more aggressive inside the arc this year than in years past. Butch has one of the softest shooting touches that I’ve ever seen from a man of his height. He doesn’t shy from contact, but doesn’t exactly thrive on offense when he has to bang with people. Defensively, both are just a step slow.

Edge: Marquette. I think Butch has it all over Novak in terms of all-around game, but Novak’s one skill is just so good that you can’t deny him.

The Unfulfilled Potential Guy
(Marquette’s Ousmane Barro vs. Wisconsin’s Ray Nixon)
Both Barro and Nixon have physical attributes that would make any coach salivate. Nixon’s a 6'7" guy with guard skills and impressive athletic ability. Barro’s a post guy who was brought in as a project due to his athleticism and massively long arms, despite a lack of basketball experience.

Edge: Push. Nixon’s probably shown a bit more than Barro, but a lot of that is because he’s got two more years under his belt, so I’m not going to penalize Ousmane for that.

The Guy With The Father Who Played Pro Ball
(Marquette’s Wesley Matthews vs. Wisconsin’s Jason Chappell)
Matthews’ dad was a star at Wisconsin, while Chappell’s dad was an all-American at Wake Forest. Both played pro ball. Matthews, Jr. is a smooth freshman guard who appears to have the charisma and leadership skills of someone well beyond his years. The younger Chappell is one of the more aggressive post men for the Badgers, and has developed into a serviceable option for Wisconsin.

Edge: Marquette. If the game’s nearing the end and it’s still in doubt, Matthews is definitely going to be on the court. The same can’t be said for Chappell.

The Quick Guard
(Marquette’s Jerel McNeal vs. Wisconsin’s Kammron Taylor
McNeal is Marquette’s best on-the-ball defender, and has some seriously quick hands. Taylor is the best true guard that the Badgers have, and has the ability to do some serious scoring when he gets in a groove.

Edge: Wisconsin. McNeal has the potential to be a star, but he’s not there yet. Taylor’s the second-most indispensable player on a good Big Ten team.

Verdict: 2-2-1 (Tie)

So there you have it–based on my analysis of players with randomly similar attributes, this game will end in a tie. Most of the experts are predicting a Wisconsin win, but how can you argue with my logic? Of course, my analysis disappoints me somewhat, as I was hoping for a dominating Wisconsin win (again, I'm open with where my ultimate allegiances lie), but sometimes the facts are hard to handle.

Enjoy whatever games you see this weekend, but I guarantee that you won’t be having as much fun as me.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I'm Tired

This week basketball watching has replaced much of my sleep, I'm going to have to delay my game notes on Wisconsin vs. UW-Green Bay that I attended this evening, in favor of actually trying to get a few extra winks tonight.

In the meantime, I did a cursory check of college hoops topics that are of interest to me, finding first that Marquette had won, and a second fact that was a little less exciting than that. I've been monitoring the Mike Thompson situation at Northwestern, partly because I was hoping to make another drive down to Evanston to see him play when he re-entered the line-up, and partly because of the comments that I made after seeing Northwestern vs. Florida Atlantic that something bigger than a simple illness was going on. Unfortunately, my reading tonight revealed that Thompson has a heart problem that's been keeping him off the floor, and is no longer part of the Northwestern basketball team. I had expected at the time that the "something bigger" was probably some small-time personality conflict with coach Bill Carmody, or a minor disciplinary move that it wouldn't make sense to air publicly. I only wish it was that, now.

Best of luck to Mr. Thompson with his health issues, and apologies for any of my speculation that may have reflected negatively on him. And as usual, much praise to Bill Carmody, who did an excellent job of respecting a player's privacy when it must have been hard to do so.

Milwaukee Lutheran vs. Tosa East: Pure High School Fun

Yesterday evening I ended up at Milwaukee Lutheran High School, taking in the Milwaukee Lutheran-Wauwatosa East game. I had considered going to a couple of other games, since I know I’m going to the Marquette High-Wauwatosa East game on Friday, and I was going to make it a goal this year to expand my horizons further beyond my hometown team. But the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel area rankings came out yesterday, and let’s face it, no matter how far you want to expand your horizons, you don’t miss the #2 and #8 teams in the area squaring off, even if it would have been nice to see Trevon Hughes play a road game in the airplane hanger that is the Greenfield High gym. Thoughts on the game below:

1) The high school pep band is becoming more and more of a rarity these days, and frankly, that’s usually okay with me, since I’ve seen a decline in pep band quality over the past several years. But Milwaukee Lutheran had an excellent pep band, and almost made me wish that more schools offered pep bands. I can’t speak to the musical talents of the band, since all pep bands are sort of just there to be loud, but song the song selection was great, and included such tunes as The Beer Barrel Polka, On Wisconsin, the University of Michigan fight song (which I embarrassingly love, though as a Big Ten rival, I should hate), and even Blitzkrieg Bop. Sadly, the band left as the game started, but I suppose there aren’t that many playing opportunities after the start of the game, anyway.

2) There was a good crowd at the game, particularly given the bitter cold temperatures outside (a bank clock that I saw on the way over listed the temperature at one degree) and the early-season nature of the game. If this was a February game, you’d have been hard pressed to get into the gym. As it was, I ended up parking a block away from the gym.

3) It’s rare that you see a game with two student sections as into the game as Milwaukee Lutheran and Tosa East students were last night. It was a nice treat to see some food-natured enthusiasm, and two of the larger student sections that I’ll see all year at this game. Of course, special kudos go to the Milwaukee Lutheran student section, who had some excellent taunts last night. I was very impressed when one of the Tosa East players went to the foul line and the Lutheran students began chanting "hot sister" at him. I was more impressed when he returned to the line later in the game and they then chanted "Is she here?" So many taunters don’t do enough research to be truly effective, so it’s nice to see a student section that’s up to the task.

4) I knew the player to watch for Lutheran was Derrick Hankins. He did not disappoint, pumping in three-pointer after three-pointer in the first half. Hankins not only has a nice shot, he’s got range, as he often drained threes from well behind the arc. And while his ball handling in the open court could use some work, he was fairly good at creating space with a man on him, or drawing fouls when he had the ball on the perimeter.

5) It wasn’t just Hankins pumping in threes–the entire Lutheran team went off in the first half, pumping in probably no less than 10 threes, and propelling the Red Knights to a halftime lead. It was one of the hottest three-point shooting displays I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately for Lutheran, their hot hand cooled down at the half.

6) There was halftime drawing for poinsettia plants and various dinner gift certificates, I assume as some sort of school fundraiser. Because there were so many things to give away, the announcements about the drawing spilled over and continued into the breaks during the second half. I wish that there had been a way to wrap this up earlier, since it just seemed a bit odd to hear the PA announcer say something like "Time-out, Milwaukee Lutheran. We’ve got four more poinsettia plants to give away. Here are the names..."

7) Tosa East’s Joe Kapp, normally known more for his shooting ability than his rebounding, hauled in a big number of boards last night, in spite of his slight frame. Of course, Kapp wasn’t the only Red Raider to play well last evening, as nearly everyone looked good in contributing to the Tosa East win. But the rebounding numbers had to stand out in the post-game stats.

8) I’d like to now haul out what I plan on making a recurring feature for high school games this year. My friend Gus always tends to buy a bag of popcorn at the games we go to. Thus, he considers himself a connoisseur of concession stand popcorn. So, throughout the season he’ll be giving me his take on the quality of the popcorn at each gym we go to. As for last night, at 75 cents for a fairly large bag, Gus was pleased at the cost-effectiveness of the popcorn. Milwaukee Lutheran also avoided the common trap of over-salting, and got the seasoning just right. Unfortunately, Gus also noted some staleness, and a lack of warmth from the popcorn. Final score: 6 out of 10.

9) I hope to see Milwaukee Lutheran again, and knowing that one of their primary conference foes is Whitefish Bay, I think I have some idea of when I’d like to see them play again. The guards for Lutheran are strong, as advertised. The main area for improvement that I saw for the Red Knights is interior and help defense. Tosa East guards are generally better than most high school tandems, but they still got into the lane with too much regularity, and often right to the rim. If Milwaukee Lutheran fixes this problem, they’ll be very, very good. As it is, they’re just very good right now.

10) The key stretch of the game for Tosa East was the final two minutes of the third quarter. Jerry Smith (who was as good as I’ve seen him in the first half, and a tad more quiet in the second) went to the bench with foul trouble, and a line-up with a couple of reserves took over in a game that was still tight. With the goal likely to be just hanging on until the fourth quarter when some key players could come back into the game well-rested, the reserves stepped up nicely, opening up a small lead on Milwaukee Lutheran.

So Tosa East eventually extended their lead and walked off with a hard-fought win. The score was a tad more lopsided than it should have been, as Tosa East pulled away in the fourth quarter. With the joy of seeing a gym as electric as possible for such an early season game, I drove home, excited to catch the UMW-South Dakota State game that I was recording. (Perhaps an update will follow on that game if I get some time when I break for lunch today at work).

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Some Further Thoughts

I've seen a fair amount of basketball that I haven't commented on recently, but last night's Minnesota-Arizona State overtime game gave me pause for two reasons that I can't help but comment on:

1) Whenever there was a close up of Arizona State's students, without failure, every student in frame was making a certain obscene hand gesture that I referred to a lot here last year. (No, the foam finger version was not used.) I'm currently awaiting a reply from my ASU-alum friend Peter to my question of whether this is just some poorly designed ASU fan hand signal, or if ASU students are dirty, dirty people. I'll update you once I find out.

2) If you're looking for two teams that don't know how to close out a game, look no further than Minnesota and ASU. I can't recall an overtimve game in recent memory in which I've seen with so many missed foul shots, turnovers, poor shots, and general attempts to give the game away in the final minutes. If the final 7 minutes and the overtime period were any indication, neither team deserved to win this game.

That's all. Like I said, I'm working on an answer to my ASU question, and will update later today.

***Okay, here's that update. Thanks to my friend Peter, whose answer is quoted below. He answered my original question thoroughly in his first point, and then went above and beyond, giving a glimpse into the culture of basketball fandom at ASU. As the new Gopher Hoops Blog (Credit to Big Ten Wonk for linking up to their thorough game breakdown today) notes, there were probably less than 5,000 fans at the game. This comes as no shock to Peter, who used to spend $2 to watch Sun Devil games in a constantly empty arena during his student days. His thoughts below:

1. The hand signal that you are referring to is the Sun Devil Pitchfork. Created by connecting your thumb and ring finger and spreading your fingers slightly. Yes, it's closest cousin is the shocker and yes ASU kids are dirty (hence why the first Girls Gone Wild was made there as well as several other porntastic items).

2. My friend Dave asked why there didn't look like there were folks in the stands at Wells Fargo Arena last night. I told them it was because, simply, that despite their basketball program having increased slightly in quality the past couple of years, it's still not a big thing there. Actually a lot of things are big things at ASU. Folks just kind of do it, because it gives them another excuse to drink (whether it's at the game, before the game, or after the game).

3. This also explains why most of the student section was not wearing maroon or gold.

4. One of my favorite things of Wells Fargo Arena was the convenient placement of the ASU student section next to the (as we referred to it) opposing team 'old person' section. Which always lead to taunts of "UCLA Old People Suck!" since we were probably losing at that point in the game.

As always, thanks for this info, Peter. And for more info on that obscene gesture, check out this nice primer by Roger Ebert's movie reviewing partner. Why he's writing about this, I have no idea.

Monday, December 05, 2005

My Angry Rant

Today I’d like to take a break from watching games and address one of my biggest current basketball pet peeves, and a trend that I’ve been seeing over the past few years: creative player position designations on rosters. As you know, there are three primary positions in basketball: guard, forward and center. These are the terms that should be used to classify players by position. Actually, I wouldn’t complain if the classifications “small forward,” “power forward,” “point guard,” and “shooting guard” were used for specificity, but it’s certainly not necessary. Anything beyond that seems like a massive display of ego to me. It’s as if the coach is saying “Oh, well my team is so unique that I can’t classify them by the traditional rules of basketball–we need terms more tailored to us.”

Case in point–Saturday night’s roster sheet for the Wauwatosa East-Hartland Arrowhead game had one freshman team which contained the following abbreviated position designations (yes, these are the things that I notice at games) for a team of twelve players:

F (3 players)
C (one player)
F/C (2 players)
P (2 players)
W (2 players)
P/W (2 players).

I’m assuming that “P” stands for post, “W” stands for wing, unless there’s some really ridiculous classification scheme out there that I’m not aware of. Though to be honest, even my basketball-centric mind took a few minutes to process this information. Perhaps most mind boggling about the above classified team is that the coach who drew up this roster actually got half of his team classified by using real positions, but then dropped the ball by describing the other half of his team with made up terms. With that in mind, I’d like to offer a few questions about this classification scheme and the team for which it is being used to classify players:

1) I see absolutely no one listed as a guard on the team, and I could be wrong on this one, but when I think of a “wing” player, I don’t think of a guy who plays point guard. So, does this team have anyone who’s responsible running the offense and handing the ball?

2) What exactly is the difference between a “P” and a “F/C?” Typically when I see someone listed as a forward/center, I think of them playing in the post. Conversely, I think of basically anyone who plays primarily in the post as a center or bigger forward. Can anyone describe to me what the distinction here is?

3) What is the coach trying to tell me about the two players classified as “P/W?” All I picked up is that neither is probably playing point guard. Of course, I can’t be sure of that, since there’s no one on the team listed as a guard. So one of the guys with a “W” by his name must be playing point guard, since it’s pretty much a position that has to be present on any basketball team. Basically then, I have no idea what either of these two guys do.

I’m sure there are more questions like these out there, but you get my point–no one other than the team itself could possibly understand the composition of this team. So my plea to coaches who are drawing up rosters for the year–please take some time and classify your players according to the actual positions of basketball. Even if your team doesn’t believe in labeling people as “guards,” just do it for me and the rest of the fans. The standardized system provides us at least some hint of guidance as to what your guys do, and honestly, no one’s going to get angry with you if someone plays out of position. Unlike most sports, basketball positions are basically just designations of convenience anyway, so why not use them. Us lesser basketball minds would really appreciate it.

(As a quick addendum, in case you don't read the note below, an astute reader has noted that the above line-up would make a lot more sense if "P" stood for "point" rather than "post." Great catch. Of course, the fact that I looked at this line-up for two days, wrote an entire essay about it, and still didn't catch this fact just further proves my point that non-standard position names are confusing, given the vast array of potential alternate names for the real positions of basketball.)

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Wisconsin vs. Pepperdine: Kicking Off A Snowy Saturday

It was a tough weekend for picking games, since Saturday was saturated with events worth watching. The first conflict of the day was between Marquette, who was hosting South Dakota State at the Bradley Center and Wisconsin, playing host to Pepperdine at the Kohl Center in Madison. Due to a friend looking to unload some tickets to the Wisconsin game, I decided to make the trip to Madison. Neither was a marquee game, and I always try to give Wisconsin games priority, given the fact that tickets to the Badgers are a slightly tougher find as the year goes on (though thanks to an array of helpful friends, I’ve bought up quite a few of the early games). Though I must admit, the allure of Travis Diener bobblehead day was nearly strong enough to keep my in Milwaukee.

And at the end of the day, I probably should have stayed in Milwaukee. One of the most bland Wisconsin games that I’ve ever seen, combined with weather that made my drive home one of the longest and toughest ever made me wish that I had a Travis Diener bobblehead sitting on my mantle next to my Jesse Ventura “Man of Action” action figure. Nonetheless, it was a fun game, with my friend Beau, a fun guy. My thoughts below:

1) I love going to games with my friend Beau because he’s the one guy who can put my basketball nerdiness to shame. Case in point: As we arrived at the entrance to our seats in the arena, I told Beau that I was going to stop at the restroom and meet him at the seats. Once I got to our seats, I saw Beau sitting there reading a printout that he had made from Pepperdine’s website, complete with his own notes for guidance. You can call Beau a lot of things, but you can never say that he’s unprepared when he goes to a basketball game.

2) In pre-game, they were showing shots of the Wisconsin players warming up, with various stats on the screen. When they showed Joe Krabbenhoft, who’s probably hovering at around 10 minutes per game so far, his on-screen stat was (and these numbers are probably somewhat off, since I don't take notes at games) “averaging 1 rebound every 3.4 minutes). Not that that’s not an admirable stat or anything, but it seemed to me that they were really trying to force a Krabbenhoft stat in there. Particularly when they next cut to Alando Tucker’s impressive (and ever-growing) career point total.

3) Alando Tucker’s wearing one of those protective masks in order to protect a nasal injury that he suffered against Wake Forest. Whenever I see one of those things, I wonder how it would work for me if I broke my nose. Would I be able to wear my rec specs over the mask, or would I have to get some sort of prescription mask? Then it occurs to me that if I broke my nose playing basketball, I’d probably just stop playing basketball for awhile until I was healed. The Big Ten championship isn't exactly hinging on whether I can play 30 minutes of 3-on-3 with some buddies.

4) I’m typically more down on Kammron Taylor than most Wisconsin fans. Of course, I also recognize that the Badgers' lack of depth at guard this season might just make him the player that the Badgers can least afford to lose. And if I may heap some praise on him for a moment, he’s a joy to watch this year when he’s slashing through the lane and throwing lay-ups off the glass. I’ve seen very few players with his ability to play with angles and arc and always make tricky lay-ups go in.

5) Early in the game Beau looked at me and said “If you were just looking at the guys on the floor right now and you didn’t know anything else, who would you guess is the worst player on the floor? I pointed to Brian Butch, and Pepperdine’s Michael Gerrity, since they were the most awkward-looking and smallest player, respectively. Of course, they’re also Wisconsin’s second most effective offensive threat and Pepperdine’s leading scorer, respectively. Strange looking people are starting to take over the game of basketball.

6) Though this game ended up far from the most exciting game that I’ve ever seen, it had all the signs of an intensely fun game in the first five minutes or so. I can recall at least two plays where 4-5 players were diving for a loose ball on the floor. So the effort was there from both sides, even if it wasn’t a particularly alluring matchup.

7) At one point Brian Butch received the ball in a position to start a fast break. Of course, Mr. Butch then proceeded to start something that I believe would more appropriately be called a “slow break.” I’ve never seen an entire floor of people catch up to someone that far ahead of everyone to start out.

8) I was kind of disappointed when I saw the woman sitting in front of me with her husband and child break out her knitting needles and begin making some sort of garment as the game began. Why do you even come to the game if you’re going to ignore the action on the floor and knit? You’re essentially paying to sit in a cramped stadium seat and do something that you could have more comfortably done at home. And you’re garnering silent hostility from guys like me, who don’t have the kind of bankroll to even get an application for season tickets (In case you’re wondering, a $2,500 donation gets you and opportunity to request seats at Wisconsin, and currently every seat in the building is held by a season-ticket holder. Looks like I should have gotten my foot in the door a few years ago, before such a donation was a prerequisite.)

9) If Greg Stiemsma can learn to stay out of foul trouble, he’s going to be one heck of a shot blocker.

10) Despite being the leading scorer, it was a quiet game for Alando Tucker. In the post-game show, Bo Ryan attributed that to a slow start to Tucker adjusting to using his protective mask. And while that’s partially true, I think another part of it is that Tucker just tends to pick his spots to explode. Pepperdine wasn’t giving him anything easy on the defensive end, and there was no reason to force the issue. He’s one of those superstars that you can’t help but love, because he’s not a guy that needs 20 shots per game in order to be happy.

11) Pepperdine was a decidedly smaller team than Wisconsin. Because of this fact, one could not help but notice that they weren’t doing a lot of outside shooting. Particularly given that the Waves got down a few points almost immediately after the game started, it was sort of surprising that they didn’t roll the dice and jack up a couple more threes. The box score afterward revealed that they only put up eight shots from behind the arc. That’s a pretty minuscule total even if your team’s not at a size disadvantage.

And with the end of the lackluster game, I loaded into my car and headed out onto the snow-covered Wisconsin roads. Driving in some of the worst conditions I’ve encountered in recent memory, I didn’t even get the chance to stop at home before continuing on to some evening basketball. But the quest continued, as you’ll see below...

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