Sunday, December 11, 2005

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...

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