Tuesday, January 31, 2006

UWM, Loyola, and No Sound

Well, this is turning into another poor week of updates for me. You see, while I watched the UWM-Loyola (Chicago) game last night, work and a handful of errands made me miss the start of the first half, and some telephone jockeying for future basketball plans forced me to watch the second half with no sound. And since about 3/4 of discussing a televised UWM game the day afterward is making fun of comments by play-by-play man Daron Sutton, I wasn’t left with much to talk about. So I’ll make the few quick points that I do have and move on to something more interesting:

1) As I was watching the end of the first half, the color commentator was making a good point about UWM, in a rare shift from man-to-man defense, showing off a 2-3 zone look. Right as he was spitting out the last word about that matter, Loyola scored one of the easiest layups I’ve seen in awhile, and the color man aptly said something to the effect of "I don’t think we’ll see too much more of that 2-3 zone."

2) A more Badger-centric friend called me at halftime to note how much he wished Wisconsin had Adrian Tigert on its team. I couldn’t agree more. He’s probably the most consistent frontcourt player in the state. And while Joah Tucker is more talented, and Boo Davis can get on hotter scoring streaks, Tigert is still what makes this UWM team go.

3) Before the game I hadn’t known anything about where Loyola played its home games, but I read an on-screen graphic last night noting that Loyala’s gymnasium is called the Gentile Center. Isn’t that perhaps taking the whole Jesuit university thing too far? Perhaps you could have a gymnasium that sounds more inclusive to Jewish folks. Of course, I assume that the name is pronounced differently (remember, my sound was off last night), but still, there must be a sign on the building somewhere, and I can’t be the only one thinking this.

4) Nice, tough road win for the Panthers, who are indeed running away with the conference as expected. It was a little disheartening to watch them fail to zoom in for the kill on Loyola after building a decent lead, (just as they did at home a couple weeks back, almost dropping the game), but in the end, a win’s still a win. I must reluctantly admit, though, that a big part of me is having a tough time getting excited about UWM’s dominance this year, given that their NCAA tournament chances still basically come down to winning the conference tournament at the end of the season. I guess there’s still that home-court advantage in the conference tourney to worry about....

With that out of the way, I’ll detail why I had the sound off during the second half. In fact, I was finalizing plans with one of my friends for what will likely be my only interstate road trip of the year. I’m calling it the Chris West Basketball Journal Tour of Indiana. Basically, it’s a low-rent, poorly conceived idea for a road trip. UWM’s playing at Butler on Saturday afternoon, and Wisconsin’s playing at Purdue during the evening. I’m going to both with my buddy Peter. Why? Well, because it’s possible to do, and Peter and I don’t have much going on Saturday (Actually, that’s a bit of a lie, but how often do you get to see two of your favorite teams playing in another state in the same day? This had to be done.)

I’d like to sleep tonight, though, so I’m going to save detailing the insanity of it all for Wednesday’s update. I think it’s safe to say that I’ll be wondering what I was thinking by the time all is said and done. But like I said, it has to be done.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Lots of Basketball, Very Few Comments

Well, with lofty goals this weekend, I failed completely. I didn’t get around to my planned blog housekeeping (like I said Friday, I’m notoriously slow with that) and I’m packing most of my extensive game watching into one update, rather than recapping every game. I feel okay with that, though, since I needed a relaxing weekend (and indeed, I had one), since I’m heading out of town the next two weekends. My thoughts on some of the weekend action that I took in:

1) Michigan’s Graham Brown has always intrigued me. I remember seeing him as a freshman, and thinking that I’d never seen a freshman who’s frame was as filled out as him. Four years later, he actually looks like he’s lost some of his bulk, but he’s still a huge physical presence. Heck, just ask Kammron Taylor, who ran into one phenomenal screen set by Brown. (Side note–Graham’s photo in a Michigan program that I picked up in a trip to Ann Arbor a couple years ago was kind of funny. You know how some guys just look like they were born to wear a suit? Brown’s one of them. Here’s to a life of high-brow office work, Graham. It’s what you’re destined for.)

2) Speaking of that screen by Graham Brown, I was a bit annoyed by the commentators afterwards when the mentioned that Taylor running into the wall that was Brown was a problem that could be pinned on his teammates for not calling out the screen. I couldn’t disagree with that assessment more. Taylor got clobbered in the open court, just over the halfcourt line, when the rest of his team had retreated to start playing halfcourt defense. In order to call out the screen to Taylor, they would have had to yell a long way. And Taylor probably wouldn’t have had time to stop running full-speed and look up, anyway. Sometimes stuff like that happens in the open court, and you can’t blame anyone. Well, except for Graham Brown, who as I can’t stop noting, set a great screen.

3) Wesley Matthews is out for an indefinite amount of time with a foot injury. Dominic James sprained his shoulder in the Marquette-Pittsburgh game, and at the end of the game looked like he couldn’t use his right arm. Jerel McNeal left the Pittsburgh game with some sort of a late injury that was never addressed by the TV commentators. Kammron Taylor was nearly knocked unconscious by a screen (which, I must add again, was a great screen!). Michael Flowers did something unsavory to his leg in a scramble for the ball. Yes, it seems that if you are a guard and you were playing for Marquette or Wisconsin this weekend (except for Matthews, who pre-emptively injured himself a couple weeks ago), you were pretty much guaranteed to be in pain. What is this curse on Wisconsin-based guards, and when will it stop?

4) I attended the Wauwatosa East-Marquette High game on Friday night, and was less excited than usual to go, since Marquette’s having a down year, and as a result, the always exciting rivalry game is a bit less fun. Sadly, a big Tosa East lead early in the second half led to both student sections spending most of their time from mid-third quarter on with below-the-belt cheers pointing out stereotypes about their opponent. Usually, those are the types of mean-spirited cheers that make the rivalry interesting, but Friday night it became a constant barrage, instead of just one or two cheers leaking out. So it was actually sort of painful to listen to a bunch of angry verbal assaults from both sides.

5) At the high school game on Friday night, my buddy Gus, a fellow Tosa East alum presented me with a flyer about trying to stop the potential nickname/mascot change at Tosa East. It appears that the state is primed to put more pressure on schools that haven’t totally gotten away from using Native American imagery. My older brother, the last ever student to physically act as the Red Raider mascot at Tosa East, noted that he was sort of surprised that I hadn’t commented on the issue here at the blog. Well, without dissecting the issue too much, I’m going to have to go with what’s likely an unpopular opinion and say that I frankly don’t care that much. I think a lot of Marquette University people, during their latest mascot fiasco, got it exactly right when they noted that they were loyal to a school, not a symbol. That’s basically the way I feel, though I’d like to think that the nickname "Red Raiders" could survive in some new form (unlike in the Marquette scenario). For instance, it always bothered me that I had no good excuse to make pirate noises at games when I was a teenager. Here’s an opportunity to give a new generation of teenage boys the chance to make purposeful pirate noises. Of course, at the end of the day, I’ve always been sort of bummed that back when I was in high school no one wanted to use my idea (okay, I probably stole this from a friend of mine–it was a long time ago) of creating a logo of a guy carrying a briefcase and wearing a red blazer. The Red Corporate Raiders would have been awesome.

6) I don’t want to dwell on this too long, since there’s not really anything that can be done about it now, but how obnoxious was the shove given by Pitt’s Antonio Graves to Dominic James on the fastbreak where James injured his shoulder? Yeah, it wasn’t that shove that caused the injury, but even if James hadn’t been injured just beforehand, and had popped right up after falling to the ground, it was still a weak move. Here’s hoping that Marquette gets its revenge on the court when Pitt comes to town on February 18.

7) At one point on Saturday night I found myself flipping back and forth between the Gonzaga-Portland game and the Duke-Virginia game. It was always sort of a dangerous move to flip channels, since J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison are the two most prolific scorers in the country, and are both really fun to watch. Changing channels could mean missing either one scoring lots of points. And for the record, yes, I did miss Morrison scoring 14 of his team’s first 16 points, as I wasn’t even aware the game was on yet.

8) Speaking of Adam Morrison, while I absolutely love watching him play, and kind of enjoy his free-spirited persona, there’s a big part of me that keeps thinking that if I ever met him I would really want to punch him in the mouth. I love the irrational, mixed emotions that basketball gives me, and Morrison’s probably the best example ever of this. He’s a guy that I’ve never met, and for some unknown reason, I have decided that I probably wouldn’t like him. Yet I root for him anyway. It makes no sense, and I love it.

9) I love watching Marquette games these days, noticing that Chris Grimm is in the game, and wondering to myself, "How’d he get in there?"

10) Going back to my earlier injury point, Marquette has truly been cursed over the past two years, as this year they’ve added to the horror of last year’s parade of injured guards, having injuries to the three players that are arguably the best ones that they have. Unlike last year, they’re not totally dependent on one guy (as they were with Travis Diener), but even though he’s just a freshman, I still don’t want to imagine what this team will be like if Dominic James is out for any length of time with his shoulder injury. Here’s hoping that Steve Novak is at full speed, soon.

That’s it for today. More to follow tomorrow. I’m probably just watching the UWM-Loyola game on TV tonight, so I doubt I’ll have anything too exciting tomorrow. But I’ll still be here.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Leftover Notes

As you’ve likely noticed recently, my futile attempts on Thursday nights to raise my bowling average past 122 typically prevent me from watching a full basketball game. Last night was no different, but unlike the last two weeks, I’ve actually planned ahead so that I could do an update. So here’s some lingering notes that I’ve either missed, or had no place to put over the last few weeks:

1) I’ve noticed a great new role that seems to be developing on basketball teams across the country. The guy who fills this role may or may not play major minutes for his team, and may or may not be a particularly skilled basketball player. But if your team doesn’t have the guy who stands at the end of the introduction line who jumps up to give a chest bump to the player who’s being introduced, then you’re just behind the times.

2) As the Big Ten stands right now, Wisconsin is sitting in first place with one loss, and five teams sit one game back with one loss. It doesn’t even seem statistically possible to me that this many teams have so many wins and are challenging for first place. I think the league needs to send a thank-you card to 0-6 Minnesota for facilitating this excitement.

3) A couple of times this year when I’ve been to high school games to watch Jerry Smith, I’ve seen him walk to center court for the captain’s debriefing, and upon encountering the refs, he will exchange kind words and engage in one of those man hugs where you shake hands and then lean in for the hug with one of the refs. Wouldn’t that scare the crap out of you if you’re an opposing team? Not only are you supposed to try and stop arguably the best player in the state, but now you find out that he’s friendly enough with the ref to share an embrace with him. I wouldn’t be expecting things to go the way that I want at that point.

4) Yesterday I was chatting with my father about basketball when he looked at the TV listings and noted that Western Kentucky vs. Louisiana-Lafayette was on TV that evening. He quickly noted that that sounded like a game no one would want to watch. I then found myself replying "Well, I don’t know–I’ve seen a little bit of Western Kentucky, and they’re pretty good. And Louisiana-Lafayette has that guy from Wisconsin (Michael Southall, 34pts) playing for them, so it might be a fun one to watch." That’s when I realized just how much of a disease basketball has become for me. My dad shocked me, though, and showed me that my disease is spreading when he replied to my comments by asking "Oh yeah, you’re talking about that guy from the LaCrosse area with all the problems, right?"

5) I’m coming out and saying it right now–I don’t want ESPNU in my home, and neither should you. I’m tired of ESPN doing things like tossing a legitimate Marquette-Notre Dame on their otherwise mediocre-sounding startup channel in attempts to get people to demand that their cable company carry ESPNU. It’s just another ploy to force through another channel that they can over-charge cable companies for carrying. The worst part of this all, though, is my immediate reaction is to want ESPNU badly (heck, ESPN typically puts out a good product–this is just an institutional complaint), even if I know in my head that by getting the channel, I’m just hurting myself and every other cable subscriber out there. It’s almost as if ESPN is peddling drugs, and I’m trying to fight the urge to buy more crack. Thanks to Time-Warner, though, for intervening for the moment and making sure that I don’t have access to ESPNU. Here’s hoping that the cable companies stand strong and don’t allow ESPN to bully them (and indirectly, the rest of us) anymore.

6) The recent academic ineligibility crisis at Wisconsin got me thinking back to my own studies there, which only made me madder. Clearly, someone should know (and probably does know) where to hide guys if they need a break from rigorous studies every now and again. I should know, because even as a normal student, I managed to take a lot of those classes which would be good for maintaining eligibility. My favorite, to this day, is Animal Science 200: The Biology and Appreciation of Companion Animals. More simply stated, the class was about pet care. The first class was about setting up a fish tank. On Fridays, the class size was typically much smaller, since the football team was often on a road trip. I give the professor credit, though, since in his overview remarks to the class when the semester started, he noted in a Power Point presentation that one of the reasons that people take the class is that they heard it was easy, and went on to say that it probably was easy if you did all of your work. And indeed, it was about the easiest "B" I ever got. (Stop laughing–there’s no such thing as an easy "A." Even if you’re just learning about how to best set up a whelping box for your dog as it gives birth, you’ve still got to put in some extra effort for an "A.")

7) Former UWM coach Bruce Pearl continues to do a bang-up job with Tennessee, and already has upsets of Texas and Florida under his belt. As I said to people around me when Pearl took that job, I generally think you’d be crazy to take the Tennessee job with the pervasiveness of women’s basketball down there, but if there’s anyone who could make things work there, it’s Bruce Pearl. Aside from his on-court success, I think what will make Pearl successful is his tireless work promoting his team, something that Tennessee men’s basketball desperately needs. Last season it was near impossible to go a week without hearing a radio interview or seeing a TV interview with Pearl in the local media. He was undoubtedly a great interview subject, and certainly played a big role in creating the most excitement that I’ve ever seen about anything (athletic or otherwise) going on at UWM. Here’s guessing he’s bringing a lot of that personality to Tennessee. I know I miss watching the guy coach (though Rob Jeter keeping his team on track for another win last night somewhat soothes the pain).

With that, I’m done with clean up for the day. I have some site housekeeping to do this weekend (mainly adding new links and overhauling my organization of them, both things that I’m notoriously slow about), and also plan on commenting a bit on the new attendance policies that Milwaukee Public Schools are implementing to ensure safety at their high school games, but neither was do-able for today. Enjoy the basketball weekend. As I’m kicking things off with Wauwatosa East vs. Marquette tonight, I know I certainly will.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Wisconsin vs. Penn State: A Win With Mixed Emotions

My evening last night in Madison for the Wisconsin-Penn State game brought about somewhat mixed emotions. While the game itself, as I had explicitly hoped for yesterday, was not all that interesting, it was a win and got Wisconsin back on track. On the other hand, I learned at halftime, via a voice message on my cell phone from my friend Gus, the news that Greg Stiemsma is academically ineligible for the rest of the season, and that his academic troubles are just one facet of his current battle with depression. That news sort of cast a pall over the evening, and led to the least amount of joy I’ve ever had after a 29 point win by one of my teams.

Instead of doing normal game thoughts today, since the evening was somewhat altered by the news of Stiemsma’s ineligibility, I’m going to alternate between game thoughts and thoughts on the Wisconsin ineligibility crisis. So here we go, starting with a game thought:

1) I was lucky enough to attend the game with my friend, known to most in my circle of friends simply as Boo-Yah. Boo-Yah is actually the father of one of my best friends from college, but when basketball’s on, having him around is no different than having another 20-something to catch a game with (particularly since I think he may be capable of out-drinking me). I knew it was going to be a great night going in for two simple reasons: Boo-Yah and I were going to get the chance to chat about every level of hoops in Wisconsin before and during the game, and he’s got excellent seats. And I don’t care how bad Penn State is–if you’re going to be sitting in the lower level at halfcourt talking hoops with Boo-Yah, it’s going to be a fun game to watch.

2) I can’t help but thinking that having three guys academically eligible in one semester (Stiemsma, Marcus Landry, and DeAaron Williams, who would have been academically ineligible had he stayed at Wisconsin) is about as unacceptable a situation as possible for the Wisconsin staff. I can sort of give them a pass on Stiemsma, since his situation is so hazy, and he apparently does have a legitimate mental health problem that led to his ineligibility, but I’m perplexed at how two other guys could slip through like this. While its nice that Marcus Landry seems to be taking this as a wake up call, shouldn’t he have seen this coming much earlier? When I was having academic troubles in school, I always had a pretty good sense of it, pretty early in the semester. Wasn’t anyone monitoring these guys? And if they were, and help was given, how badly off must these guys have been to have still not maintained eligibility. Obviously I don’t know the whole story, but having such an epidemic implies some pretty unflattering things about the Wisconsin basketball staff and players.

3) At one point Boo-Yah noted to me how ridiculous he thought a gigantic tattoo looked on the arm of Penn State’s tiny guard, Ben Luber. Indeed, Luber reminded me of a number of division three guys that I had seen the prior evening, where tattoos run rampant, despite the fact that very few division three guys have the arms to properly display such artwork. Yes Ben Luber, you look ridiculous (even if you do play ball better than the division three guys).

4) Given the academic casualties of this team, it was sort of curious last night to not see Bo Ryan attempt to use Kevin Gullickson more, since he’s the only other Wisconsin player that sounds like he may be even marginally game-ready. Last night would have been the perfect time to do so, as well, since there was a big cushion, and Gullickson could have had about as low-stress an opportunity as possible for working his way into the rotation. Instead, he got about 3-5 minutes of play early in the second half, before sitting down until last evening’s extended version of garbage time. One would hope he’ll get his feet wet one of these days, since he’s going to be needed down the stretch, since a 7-man rotation seems pretty insane to me.

5) At one point during the game, I heard a guy behind me yell out at Brian Butch "Way to go, Polar Bear!" Congrats to that guy for being so easily led by Steve Lavin’s choice of a non-sensical nickname that only Lavin himself uses.

6) Wow, did I ever come away unimpressed after seeing Penn State. Geary Claxton is really the only guy that stood out to me, and things were pretty much done for the Nittany Lions when he left for the locker room with some sort of an issue in the second half. Given that Claxton seems to be the most clearly talented player of Penn State, I’m wondering when he’ll be transferring, as seems to be tradition for any Penn State player of late who has any level of success.

7) Not so long ago, Wisconsin’s biggest strength was depth. They could, conceivably, go ten players deep without much of a drop off. Now they’re down to seven players who have actually seen legitimate court time. That scares me, mainly because of what would happen in an injury situation. You can’t play with a six man rotation, and while Kevin Gullickson is said to be able to plug the roster holes a bit, there’s not much behind him. Tanner Bronson, Morris Cain, and Devin Barry are all probably nice guys, but they don’t exactly inspire confidence when you’re trying to win a Big Ten title. On the up side, the lack of available players still hasn’t reached the level of this year’s Green Bay Packers’ team, who was on roughly its 22nd running back by the end of the year.

8) Oddest sight of the night? Alando Tucker and Ray Nixon, undoubtedly Wisconsin’s two most athletic players, doing most of their damage from outside the three-point arc. Nixon’s sort of always odd, since he’s never turned into the athletic slasher that one might have expected (Side note–Nixon and Marquette’s Steve Novak were high school rivals. Is it currently more perplexing that the athletic, 6'8" Nixon spends most of his time outside the arc, or that the slow, 6'10" Novak seldom finds himself in 2-point range? Discuss...). Tucker, on the other hand, was tossing in his flat bullets from long range at record pace last night. Definitely not the scene I ever expected when I saw both guys rocking the rim a few years back as freshmen at midnight madness.

9) Awhile back I pointed to the many parallels between this year’s Wisconsin team and the 2001-2002 Badger squad. The similarities get more striking if you now take into account the recent academic casualties (though admittedly, there seems to be a bit more culpability on the part of the team for its own problems this time around, and this year’s situation is a heck of a lot less bleak). What’s that you say? You don’t have a good recollection of the 2001-2002 Wisconsin season, and want to read a recap of the season that points out similarities to the current season and gives nearly excessive praise to Bo Ryan? Lucky for you, I wrote such an item, and you can find it here.

And as I made the drive back from Madison to Milwaukee, I listened intently to the radio, hearing about other games around the country, and slowly realizing that with the number of upsets taking place, nothing that I think I know about college basketball is right. At least I don’t seem to be alone. And at the end of the day, all this means is that the NCAA tournament is going to be absolutely spectacular this year.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Carroll College vs. Ripon College: A Quiet Evening In Waukesha

As promised, last night I took in a division three game, as Ripon College came to town (or close to town, in nearby Waukesha) to take on Carroll College. Though I’ve only been to one other division three game this year (Whitewater vs. Eau Claire), I always like going because you never know what the personality of the crowd is going to be, and you can pretty much be assured that something interesting will happen. And the fact that Carroll College doesn’t charge for admission to games doesn’t hurt either (Of course, this also seems to be a brilliant move for Carroll, as the few times that I’ve been there they have tended to draw far more fans than expected for a division three game in an area of the state that actually offers legitimate entertainment options). With that in mind, my Ripon-alum buddy Dez and I set off for the Carroll College gymnasium.

1) Last year I had made my first ever trip to Carroll College for last season’s version of the match-up I was seeing last night. As I’ve pointed out before, I was thoroughly unimpressed by the warm-up music last year, which included such cutting edge tunes as Michael Jackson’s "Beat It," and Billy Joel’s "We Didn’t Start the Fire." To my excitement, as I walked into the gym this year, I heard "We Ready," a tune that I had deemed as one of last season’s two official warm-up songs of the year. Not only had they corrected their most basic error of using stale music, they were actually using a song which I had given my official stamp of approval to. It was then followed up by an Eminem song that I didn’t know (since I’m horrifically out of touch, ever since finishing school a few years ago). Things were going well, and I began the game pleased that Carroll had corrected this error.

Then halftime came. The teams returned to the floor to warm up to...."We Ready," followed by an Eminem song that I didn’t know. Repeat music, just like last year. I’m going to try to stay positive here, though, since even though Carroll didn’t put together enough of a music bank to avoid repeated songs, they’re at least making some significant progress in terms of audio presentation. Maybe next year they’ll have everything down.

3) Speaking of audio presentation, the PA announcer last night was fun to listen to. He did the typical homer announcer thing of calling out plays by the Carroll players in a bombastic voice, and noting Ripon scores with a calm, barely audible comment. The best thing about the contrast, though, was that you could completely tell that the guy was using a contrived, extra-deep announcer voice for the home calls, since his voice sounded so different on the Ripon calls. Not that I begrudge him for that. Heck, he was pretty good at it, and let’s be honest–people who know me know that my real voice basically is a contrived announcer voice, so I can’t really complain.

4) As I walk into the gym at Carroll, one of the first things that I’ve tended notice is the offices on the upper portion of the far side of the building that have windows looking into the gym. I think it’s my new goal in life to have an office with a view like that. In fact, I’m sort of kicking myself for not scouting that location when my place of employment recently moved to new offices. Sure, it might confuse an estate planning client or two of ours to have to go to the Carroll College gym to see their lawyer, but at least I could work late and still see games.

5) As always when I watch a division three game, there’s a name or two of guys that I had seen in high school competition the year prior and forgotten about. The biggest name last night was Carroll’s Trevor Stratton, who I recalled from his strong state tournament last year. I could sort of see why his name stuck out in my head, as he was the game-high scorer last night with 24. Keep an eye on Stratton for the next few years. Only a freshman right now, he could be a great one by the time all is said and done. If nothing else, Carroll is probably assured of having the strongest backcourt in its league next year, as Stratton returns along with Nathan Drury. Admittedly, I know virtually nothing about the rest of the league, but a better division three tandem than this would be tough to find.

6) Ripon’s star player Bo Johnson had a somewhat off evening. More interesting than that to me, though, is that Johnson is a Wausau East High School alum, and looks quite a bit like my good friend Josh who also went to Wausau East. If not for the fact that I’ve met and become friends with some of Josh’s friends from high school, I’d have started wondering if everyone on the east side of that city just sort of looks the same.

7) An addition to my all-name team for the year was made when Carroll’s Buck Colomy entered the game. You’re off to a good start when any name starts with "Buck," but when you toss a "Colomy" on the end, you’re assured a spot on my all-name team.

8) I liked Ripon big man Brian Schmitting. I was actually watching him in warm-ups, and he looked like one of those guys that you see in warm-ups and you don’t really think is going to get into the game. Then he started. And he was one of the most effective guys on the floor for Ripon (though I also really liked Carroll’s big men). Just goes to show you that looks can be decieving.

9) Early in the game Dez pointed out a huge sign on the far wall of the Carroll gym that read "Building Champions." We both made the mistake upon first reading it that the banner was proclaiming Carroll to be champions of its own gymnasium, which hardly seems like a banner-worthy accomplishment. Of course, upon three seconds of reflection, we realized that the sign meant that the school was in the process of creating champions, which made the banner more appropriate. Nonetheless, given the setting of the banner, couldn’t this problem have been anticipated, and perhaps eliminated with a sign that instead read "We Build Champions."

10) Life has to be tough if you’re on a division three dance team. When I’ve been to high school and division one college games, there’s typically a set time for the dance team to come out and do their routines, be it halftime, television timeouts, or quarter breaks. But in a division three game, you’ve just got halftime, and whenever one of the coaches decides to call a timeout. Thus, you’ve always got to be on your toes, and ready to bust out your routine at a moment’s notice. It’s got to be tough to enjoy a game that way.

11) As Carroll pulled away from a game that was tied at halftime and used a barrage of late three-pointers to open a nearly 30 point lead, garbage time ensued. As part of this garbage time ensued, a cousin of one of my good friends got into the game. He played the last 2:30, and did nothing of note. This wouldn’t be so interesting, except as my friend told me, his cousin had chosen his college since he saw it as a place where he could get playing time to help him reach his goal of playing pro ball. Um, yeah. Let’s just hope he’s not late for Latin class this morning, since I’m thinking he has a better chance of eventually using a dead language in his post-college life than earning money with his basketball skills.

And with a pleasantly early end to the game, I returned home to catch the final seven minutes of the Iowa-Indiana game. That’s the beautiful thing about division three games–fewer stoppages of play means it’s a quick, efficient shot of basketball for the system. Well that, and I still like that Carroll College admission is free.

Tonight it’s off to catch the Wisconsin-Penn State game in Madison. For once in my life, here’s hoping that I have nothing interesting to say about this game, after a week at Wisconsin that can only be described as incredibly interesting.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Highest Highs and the Lowest Lows

It was a week of ups and downs in Wisconsin this past week, and even if everything isn’t coming up roses, things are definitely interesting. My thoughts on the two division one teams that had crazy weeks (we’re excluding UWM, since they’re generally stable, despite their recent loss to UW-Green Bay, who I still feel bad that I know almost nothing about).


I have always been a big believer in the idea that things are never as good as people seem to think they are when things are going well for a team, and they’re never as bad as they seem when things aren’t going right. That statement applies both ways to Wisconsin. Heading into last week’s game at Ohio State, Wisconsin was undefeated in Big Ten play and poised to take a significant lead in the conference with a win at OSU. Their national ranking had risen to 13th in the country, and they looked unbeatable at home. Things were going well, but I was a tad skeptical. Though an excellent team, Wisconsin was probably not on par with some of the other teams that I had seen this year, and certainly didn’t match up with prior Wisconsin teams that had risen similarly high in the rankings.

And of course, the crash came. It was a bit harder than I expected. First Marcus Landry and Greg Stiemsma were held out of the Ohio State game for academic and medical reasons, respectively. Then starter Brian Butch sprained his ankle late in the first half. Suddenly the incredibly deep Wisconsin roster which had used up to 10 guys in its rotation (before the transfer of DeAaron Williams) was down to 7 guys, one of whom was trotting around on a bum ankle. The Ohio State game saw them put forth a nice enough effort, but a win was out of reach.
Ohio State seemed like a hiccup, until North Dakota State came to Madison. I didn’t get the chance to see this game, as thankfully, it was not televised, but I did have the opportunity to listen to it on the radio. And I have to be honest–that 62-55 score that everyone sees? That’s not even indicative of the game. In fact, the seven point deficit that the Badgers ended the game with was probably as close as they came to the Bison all day. Shots just were not falling at all, and North Dakota State just sounded like they were getting everything done that they wanted to. It was one of the most shocking losses by Wisconsin that I can remember. It was the end of a particularly low week.

But back to my original point, though–the Badgers were never as good as they were perceived to be when they were coming into the week, and they’re not in as much trouble as they would seem to be now. Was Wisconsin deserving of their #13 ranking coming into the week? Yeah, based on momentum, they probably were at the time. But were they as good as that ranking? Probably not. Alando Tucker, the team’s best player, is a good one-man metaphor for this team. Tucker, a phenomenal player who can look dominant at times, still has some glaring deficiencies when you look at his perimeter play (after all, he’s not truly playing power forward anymore) and shooting. Similarly, the Badgers are a very solid, sometimes dominating team, but you’d be hard pressed not to see that they have some pretty clear flaws as well.

All that said, they’re not as bad as the most recent loss (and loss of players) would indicate. The game, while a shocking defeat, was at least a non-conference game, leaving Wisconsin still in a tie atop the Big Ten. The schedule is still soft as compared to other Big Ten teams. It now looks like Stiemsma’s return is imminent, and Bo Ryan should still have enough talent at his disposal to prevent surprising losses like this from happening again (though it really shouldn't have happened the first time, either). Of course, I probably don’t even need to explain that last point, as the fact that Wisconsin didn’t drop totally out of the national rankings likely proves that people out there are level-headed enough to know how to deal with the situation.


Just as Wisconsin had one of its worst weeks in the last few seasons, Marquette just had one of its best weeks in recent seasons, beating two conference rivals, selling out its home arena, and having players take home Big East Player of the Week honors (Steve Novak) and Big East Freshman of the Week Honors (Dominic James). NCAA tournament talk is now swirling around a team that I, at one time, was betting on to miss the NIT. Even with a starter sidelined with an injury, the Golden Eagles keep on rolling, proving that their win against Uconn wasn’t simply a fluke. This is a legitimately decent team.

This Golden Eagle team might be the exception to the idea that I talked about above about things never being quite as good or bad as they seem. I think things for Marquette may actually be as good as they seem. I’m excited most about this team when I recognize what it’s not. It’s not last year’s Marquette team, and it’s not a bunch of freshmen thrown together trying to learn their way. This is a team that doesn’t lean totally on one guy, and all of the newcomers seem mature beyond their years. Nowhere is the difference between this year’s team and last year’s team more evident than on plays coming out of time-outs, or plays set up for the last possession of a game. That last second shot that Novak hit at the end of the Notre Dame game to propel the Golden Eagles to victory? Last year Novak wouldn’t have had the chance to shoot that shot. Instead, there would have been a guy confusedly fumbling around at half court after getting the ball poked away. This team actually knows what it wants to do, and unlike last year’s team, it can do it from time to time. Even though it's not usually the most creative of innovative team in the world, it's a team that gets things done.

The picture’s not totally rosy, of course. There’s not a single big man that consistently jumps out and makes you confident in his abilities, and one wonders what will happen in the event that Steve Novak ever has a night where he doesn’t play like he’s the best player in the conference (wow, I never thought I’d type those words). You also hope that Dominic James, who’s already had some pretty nasty cramping problems this year, and Jerel McNeal don’t hit a freshmen wall. But are these pretty minor problems to have, given the expectations at the start of the year? You bet they are.

At the end of the day, this isn’t a team that’s going to make a run at the national championship, but that’s okay. As noted above, this is a team that was thought to be borderline NIT and now NCAA talk is swirling around it. It’s a team that closed out last season in and NIT loss attended by so few people (even I didn’t feel motivated enough to check that one out) that they couldn’t fill the lower level of the Bradley Center, and now they’re selling out games. The success is building again. And in my mind, they’ve done enough now that I’m not worried anymore that the success is a fluke.

I told anyone who would listen at the beginning of the year that this was going to be a special team in two years. The way it’s shaping up, it looks like Dominic James and company are trying to make things happen a year quicker than I anticipated.

So that's where we stand with the two biggest names in division one basketball in Wisconsin. Thanks to UWM and Rob Jeter (who I love more every day, by the way) for keeping an even keel and not making me talk about you. As for tomorrow, I've got tentative plans to watch some division three hoops tonight. Good things always seem to happen when I choose to go the D3 route, so I'm looking forward to doing tomorrow's recap.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Whitefish Bay vs. Homestead: A Night of Surprises

I’m not going to lie to you–Friday night I wanted to go to the Marquette vs. Notre Dame game that ended so tremendously. But for a variety of odd reasons, it just didn’t work out. So as I was leaving my office, I gave my reliable friend Kevin a call to see if he was catching a high school game that night. Turns out, he was taking in Whitefish Bay at Homestead, a matchup that led to overtime when it last occurred. It was one of the two most intriguing games in the area on Friday night. It all sounded good, but he noted that he had a warning.

(Side note–with the number of times that I’ve seen Whitefish Bay this year, one would think that I have some sort of special interest in the program. Not really–they’re just a good, fun team to watch, and the North Shore conference is deep enough that they seem to have an excellent match-up every week)

His warning? He had heard through the grapevine that the evening’s contest was to be part of a themed "throwback" night at Homestead, where the game was moved out of the brand new state-of-the-art fieldhouse (my favorite in the Milwaukee area, by the way), players were to wear old uniforms, and a general vibe of days gone by would be precipitated. His source? Why, his friend the official scorekeeper, who had a throwback outfit of epic proportions planned. Of course finally, Kevin noted, the allure of the game and the smaller size of the gym meant that it could be pretty crowded, and I would have to get there early.

I was battling a pretty bad cold on Friday night, and for the first time in weeks, a snowstorm was beating down on southeastern Wisconsin, so I had certainly thought about just packing it in and staying home for the night. But when I heard the words "Throwback Night," I knew that I was going to have to grab a handful of tissues, try to overdose on Vitamin C, and make the sloppy half-hour drive to Homestead for the game.

As I arrived at Homestead, the huge parking lot was, indeed, parked full of cars. I had been running late, and as a result, it looked like I would be packed in pretty tight in the side gym. To my surprise, though, as it turned out, most of the cars were there for a wrestling meet in the fieldhouse. The auxiliary gym was somewhat sparsely populated, and seemingly only in use due to the meet. And throwback night? There was no indication that anything of the sort was going on. Well, unless you count the lone scorekeeper randomly wearing a wig and awesome fake mustache, in true Beastie Boys’ "Sabotage" video style.

Luckily the game, unlike the throwback night concept, would not disappoint:

1) Though the game was generally less well-attended than I had expected, each school had a critical mass to form a decent student section. I had high hopes for Homestead, as about ten young men had painted their entire torsos red. When you get that many crazy fans in one place, you have to expect good things. While the attire was definitely the most impressive display of fan dedication this year (particularly for the one guy who wore khakis that were looking pretty red by the third quarter from general rub-off), the decibel level was lower than I expected. Still, if I’m Whitefish Bay, I’m going to be slightly intimidated if I’m inbounding a ball in front of a shirtless dude with a red torso.

2) Also in attendance at the game was UWM coach Rob Jeter, presumably there to watch Whitefish Bay’s Matt Schneck. I was sort of thrown by Jeter’s presence at first, wondering who he could possibly be recruiting at this game. Then I remembered that he wasn’t a Wisconsin assistant anymore. Call it a severe momentary brain lapse on my part, but I’ve seen Jeter at so many high school games over the last few years that I just sort of reverted in my mind to last year.

3) Speaking of Matt Schneck, he looks a little bit better every time I see him. On Friday, he was finishing strong around the hoop, and even got the opportunity to knock down a bunch of foul shots. His release looks a little weird, but the ball seemed to be going through the hoop at a pretty consistent rate, so who am I to complain about how it looked?

4) The first half went all Whitefish Bay’s way, as the Blue Dukes went into the game with an 18 point lead. Perhaps most impressive about this was that they had scored 28 on a Homestead defense that I thought was fairly solid.

5) I might have just been imagining things, but on one end of the gym it appeared that there was a light that kept getting more intense and less intense at random intervals, as if there was some sort of a bulb problem. I guess it didn’t end up being an issue for either team, though I doubt it would have been fun to shoot into. Either way, Homestead was shooting at it in the second half, so even if it was an issue, at least the home team bore the brunt of the problem.

6) In a rare mistake, the scoreboard operator failed to stop the clock after a foul with just upwards of two minutes left in the game. The error was quickly pointed out by a heady Homestead player, and the refs went over to the scorer’s table to sort out the problem. The clock, stopped after the error at 2:15, was re-set to 2:20, which didn’t exactly make the Whitefish Bay faithful happy (they were looking for less time to be put back), and conformed exactly with what the Homestead students were chanting. To be honest, I thought 2:22 would have actually been more accurate, but there was no way to really check on this, so the refs did as good a job as possible sorting out the situation fairly.

7) Oh yeah, that student chant during the stoppage of play to re-set the clock? The chant was "2-2-0! 2-2-0!" Thus marks the first time I’ve ever heard this chant at a suburban Milwaukee high school game and it’s not been offensive. (If you’re not from Milwaukee, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about, but rest assured that the 220 chant has never been as innocent as it was at this game).

8) Though Whitefish Bay owned the first half, Homestead decided to take over the second, scratching and clawing its way back into the game. A full-court press and lots of resulting turnovers got them back into the game, leaving the contest in doubt until the final minutes, when Whitefish Bay settled down and dug in for the win. It would be a good weekend for comebacks, as I would see a mini-comeback in the game I would see the next night, as well.

So Whitefish Bay hung on for the win and remained undefeated. And I returned home on significantly improved roads, as my original drive out to Homestead had occurred during the 4-hour window this winter when driving conditions were actually bad in Wisconsin. It was a shame that things had improved so much, too, since I had the second half of the Marquette game on the radio to listen to as long as I wanted. Eventually, though, I finished up listening to the game at home and doped myself up with cold medicine. After all, I had to knock the illness out of myself if I was to catch a game the next day.

Wauwatosa East vs. Wauwatosa West: The Rivalry Continues (and Begins)

Before I get to the meat of today’s recap, I’d like to offer a quick disclaimer. On Saturday night I attended the Wauwatosa East-Wauwatosa West basketball game. As most of you know, I grew up in, and have since moved back to my favorite Milwaukee suburb, the aforementioned Wauwatosa. I actually wasn’t going to recap this game, since I’m just a little too close to the community, and didn’t want to run the risk of inadvertently saying something that could result in me hit over the head with a beer bottle the next time I’m at a local tavern. But as usual, there’s a ton of good things to say about the game, so I’m going to go ahead and talk about it. Apologies if I’m a little more subdued than usual, though. Here’s the night in review:

Saturday night was the time for the big rivalry game in my community, the Wauwatosa East-Wauwatosa West game (as most of you know, I’m an old East alum). Since I first learned about the concept of rivalries in sports, this has been one of the most lopsided rivalries that I can think of. For years, Tosa West had a significantly smaller enrollment than Tosa East, leading to great difficulty for the West Trojans in bringing home any sort of victory in various competitions with their east-side counterparts. Indeed, my understanding is that the last Tosa West basketball victory over perennial high school basketball power Tosa East came in the early 1990s (though it should be noted, that the series was halted for several years when conference realignment led to both schools ending up in different conferences). It’s been a rough road for the smaller school in Tosa.

But all that has been starting to change. Due to boundary changes made several years back, enrollments have begun to even out. And as a result Tosa West athletic programs have started winning, a fact pointed out by several Tosa West students who brandished signs detailing their school’s recent outstanding athletic achievements, and started a chant of "We Own Tosa!" at the onset of the game. After a solid start to the season, was this to be the year that Tosa West’s basketball team would finally take down its neighbor, which just happens to have one of the top basketball programs in the state?

In fact, this would not be the year that Tosa West would triumph, as they ultimately fell to Tosa East by a 68-60 margin. However, a solid Trojan team did play the first half to a tie, and keep the game in doubt until the final minute of the game. Things seem to be headed in the right direction, and if we have a few more years like this, this could actually turn into the rivalry that it always should have been. My more specific thoughts below:

1) When I looked at the box score for the game on Sunday morning, the numbers that stood out were the so-impressive-that-you-don’t-even-notice-him-scoring-anymore Jerry Smith with 35 points, and Tosa West’s Rico Combs with 26 points. But all I saw on Saturday night was Tosa West point guard Dan Christensen having an unbelievable game, dropping 22 points on the Red Raiders. Everything seemed to be dropping for Christensen, which, I suppose, is why he just seemed to stand out more than the two stars who had more points.

2) Like I said, I barely even noticed Jerry Smith scoring 35, partly because he scored a lot of those points from the foul line, where he seemed to be every 30 seconds or so. When he wasn’t shooting foul shots, though, he managed to throw down probably the most impressive dunk that I’ve seen out of him in the time that I’ve been watching him. It was pretty simple–he just went sky high and tossed the ball down with all his power. The basket was still shaking when Tosa East got the ball back for its next possession.

3) Tosa West came out of the gates pushing the tempo about as fast as they could go. I thought it was a pretty decent idea, and it seemed to throw Tosa East off a bit right at the start of the game as they scrambled to get back on defense in transition. Eventually the pace settled down a bit, but attacking was a nice way to start things off, particularly given Tosa West’s underdog role in this game.

4) Tosa East’s Joe Kapp certainly isn’t the physically strongest guy on the court, but in terms of guys who are strong with the ball, he’s near the top of the list.

5) I realize that when Jerry Smith scores 35 points, it’s sort of ridiculous to praise the way that he was defended, but what the heck–I’ve never been one to say the logical thing, so I’m going to do it anyway. When Tosa West was in a man-to-man, a lanky 6'7" Rico Combs was guarding Smith. Combs’ length largely kept Smith from creating space to hit his outside jumper, a deadly shot that he’s been getting off by jabbing forward and taking a quick step back most of this season. You’re not going to take away Smith’s driving ability with one guy, no matter how quick, so why not put a guy on him who’s physically capable of taking away his outside shot? Let the rest of the team help when he gets into the lane. Sure, things didn’t go as hoped when he got into the lane, but I still think it was a well-conceived plan, which I’d expect Tosa West to try again in the event of another meeting in the playoffs.

6) Tosa East had their issues with taking care of the ball, but make no mistake–Tosa West played a heck of a game. It was one of the guttier performances that I’ve seen this year. At one point in the first half, Tosa East went on a run and built up either a 22-7 or 22-10 lead (I don’t recall exactly). In a rivalry game, in front of a packed house, a lot of teams would have folded at that point, and the game would have gotten ugly. Tosa West just kept pushing the ball and upping their defensive intensity. They’re on my list of teams (along with Germantown) that I didn’t expect a lot from going in, but would actually like to see again this year.

7) As for any big game in a hot, overcrowded gym like Tosa East’s, the atmosphere was great. Lots of student chants came out, and there was the feeling that each school really wanted this game. There’s something about playing your neighbor that really makes a person want to put their best foot forward.

8) The game ended with a 3/4 court inbounds pass to a wide-open Joe Kapp, who had gotten behind the Tosa West defense and punctuated the win with a dunk that to me, seemed to be a good metaphor for the entire game. It wasn’t the most impressive dunk ever, and it just barely got down (and likely would have drawn Kapp a technical foul for getting stuck on the rim, had the game not ended at that very moment), but it was still a moment of some excitement and joy for Tosa East. After the dunk, Tosa East coach George Haas had some words with Kapp, and if I had to guess, I’d think that he wasn’t totally happy with the dunk, since Kapp’s response was to shake his head and say (and this could be totally wrong, since I can’t read lips all that well) "I had to do it." And if that’s what he said, it’s hard to disagree. I can’t come down too hard on a kid tossing down an unnecessary game ending dunk against a cross-town rival. Those are the things that you live for when you’re 17.

9) Finally, it should be said–kudos to the powers that be for making this game happen. As I noted, for a handful of years, this rivalry game was stopped due to both schools being in different conferences. While the conference split is still present, the game was recently brought back as a non-conference event. It might not make logistical sense from a scheduling point of view for either team, but it makes great sense in terms of fostering a rivalry and giving the Wauwatosa community something to get excited about. I, for one, am extremely happy to see this game in existence.

And with the game over, I sauntered out of the stands with my friend past a Tosa East team celebrating as much as I’ve ever seen after an 8-point victory. The early game time left a lot of time for nightlife, but I suspected that I wouldn’t see anything that night that was quite as much fun as taking in what was still a true rivalry game.

More To Follow

Game recaps from the weekend will be up shortly. I went to two high school games that were quite enjoyable. However, there obviously was a lot of excitement going on in college hoops in Wisconsin this weekend. And I actually did hear most of it on the radio (nope, no television broadcasts). Due to time constraints, though, I’m going to get to college activity tomorrow evening, when I’ll prattle on about Marquette’s huge win in front of a sell-out crowd, continuing their increasingly pleasantly surprising season, and Wisconsin’s painful loss to North Dakota State, capping Bo Ryan’s roughest week since taking over at Wisconsin.

If you need something more immediate, though, head over to Cracked Sidewalks to check out their Marquette game notes. And for a couple of Wisconsin comments, check out the Big Ten Wonk, who I assume will have one of his always-accurate commentaries up soon. I also suspect will be referencing Edvard Munch in whatever he has to say about Wisconsin today (might I suggest using this reference in regards to shooting percentage...)

Back with more when I have a chance to review this weekend's notes.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Slacking Again...

As per usual on Thursday nights, my bowling schedule, and the NCAA's schedule were not well aligned, and I took a night off from watching basketball. For some reason, Arizona vs. Stanford was the only late Pac-10 game that I had last night, which was upsetting, because I usually have three to choose from when I get home on Thursdays. I did watch the overtime period of that one, but faded pretty quickly (much like Stanford did...), as a nasty cold is attacking my immune system and wearing me down. On the upside, I did take the time to cobble together some random AV equipment from my back room (the stuff that normally only gets trotted out for my annual four TV March Madness extravaganza) and finally took the first step in transferring my old basketball video tapes to DVD. It's a goal that I've had for over two years, but never quite figured out how to implement. Now that I've got a stand-alone set-up in place, it shouldn't be too much longer until I can toss out my big box of tapes that's eating up space in the closet. As it stands, I've already got one box that will become obsolete in March with the forthcoming release of season two of The White Shadow. I may have to get a smaller place by the time all is said and done.

Back on Monday with more thoughts. I know it's been a light week of going to games for me, but I'm pretty sure that I'll make it to at least two games in person this weekend (anyone up for Marquette-Notre Dame tonight?). So things should get right back to normal pretty fast.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Ohio State-Wisconsin, and Other Thoughts

My thoughts on the Wisconsin-Ohio State game? Well, I suppose you can’t separate those thoughts from the roster events of yesterday for Wisconsin, so let’s begin. Obviously, the Badgers found themselves a bit shorthanded, losing forward Marcus Landry and center Greg Stiemsma yesterday to an academic issue and a medical issue, respectively. And pretty clearly, the most difficult road game, featuring Ohio State and Terence Dials, was a pretty bad time to end up thin in the frontcourt (not to mention that Stiemsma, the team’s best post defender, likely would have matched up with Dials more than anyone else). When Brian Butch sprained his ankle near the middle of the first half, well, that was just left me wondering further if God hates the Badgers.

Indeed, it’s a bit jarring when a team that had, as recently as two weeks ago, been nearly working with a ten-man rotation, gets cut down to six players. But ultimately, I don’t feel like this game was lost by the roster shake-ups. It was lost because Wisconsin was supposed to lose one of its first five games. No one in the Big Ten is supposed to run away with things this year. And frankly, though I may be more pessimistic than most with regard to this year’s Wisconsin team, I had this one penciled in as a loss well before the bad news about the roster hit the media. Wisconsin’s great at home, but they’ve always had some struggles on the road. And given that their schedule is fairly soft the rest of the way, it seemed to me like a loss was necessary to keep the universe in proper alignment. Furthermore, I still think Wisconsin will drop one road game this season that they have no business losing.

I actually made a series of predictions for myself before the game about what would happen in light of the lack of depth at the forward spots. One of them was that Terence Dials would score no less than 25 points. It’s a credit to Wisconsin that this didn’t happen. Dials is a player that I respect tremendously, and along with Marco Killingsworth, is about the last person I would want to face without a great post defender. Jason Chappell did an admirable job on Dials, who didn’t abuse Wisconsin in the post as I had suspected. In fact, a good number of Dials looks came on pick and rolls. Not exactly how I was expecting him to beat the Badgers.

My other prediction is that Joe Krabbenhoft was about to take a big step forward, and I think that happened as well (just not to the extent that I had predicted). The last two weeks have brought about major signs of progress from Krabbenhoft, and more came last night, as his shot actually fell a couple of times. Need proof that Krabbenhoft is starting to make a mark? Look no further than announcer Steve Lavin’s call for someone to give Krabbenhoft a nickname (a strange request, given that he did so well with deeming Brian Butch to be "The Polar Bear") I’m liking this guy more and more.

Ultimately, all that I think happened was that Wisconsin only played a good game when it needed to play a great game. Nearly everyone that got in the game did something significantly positive. As I’ve noted, Krabbenhoft and Chappell really stepped up their games. Brian Butch showed great toughness (and a really goofy grimace all night long) by returning to the game after hurting his ankle. Kammron Taylor showed flashes of those times when he’s able to toss the team on his back. Tanner Bronson didn’t commit any horrific turnovers during his brief stint on the floor. And Alando Tucker, despite missing a lot of short shots, still got to the hoop with regularity, and generally looked like he was Alando Tucker. All in all, how can I complain about that?

But it still hurts, since if the Badgers had stolen this road game, it would be a pretty sweet place to be sitting in. But I guess tied for the Big Ten lead isn’t that much worse than having sole possession. Let’s just hope they get back up to full strength soon.

And because any day would be incomplete without a couple of bullet points, here’s a handful from other games that I was watching:

1) I caught bits and pieces of the Memphis-Tennessee game on CSTV last night. First off, I think this may have been a miracle, since it’s the first time that I’ve ever come across a game worth watching on CSTV, a channel that usually shows downtrodden mid majors, or simply neglects basketball altogether in favor of re-running women’s lacrosse games and documentaries about college marching bands. Secondly, can you think of any game that could have better matched two head coaches (John Calipari and Bruce Pearl) about whom you sense there’s something unsavory about, but lack any real facts to back up that feeling?

2) Because I was stuck at the office until 7pm last night, but pretty much done working by 6pm, I decided to watch the UWM-Detroit game for a bit on my computer. The announcer for Detroit noted early in the game that Adrian Tigert has had chronic back problems throughout his career at UWM, and now as a fifth year senior, he rarely practices anymore. Now, I haven't been to any UWM practices or anything, but I find this hard to believe for several reasons. First, Tigert still looks to be in much better shape than he was two years ago, so he's got to be doing something physical on a consistent basis. Second, basketball's not a game where you can be comfortable with your teammates unless you play together on a regular basis, and Tigert works well with his teammates. Finally, UWM's running an entirely new system this year, with an entirely new coach. One would need to practice to learn these things. Of course, I could be wrong, since the Detroit radio announcer is likely privy to more information than I, but it just seems to me like he's making this up in order to have a good aside during the broadcast.

3) The highlight of the Detroit-UWM broadcast? That would have to be the Detroit radio guy's noting that UWM backup forward Michael Bendall had entered the game, and then trying to pronouce his hometown of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. It came out something like this: "In comes Michael Bendall, a sophomore from (roughly 3 second pause) Oca...Oca_____nom_____a__woc." And yes, he ultimately pronounced it wrong, just as I regularly do in attempts to throw off people who are new to the area.

4) Finally, I got home to catch part of the Duke-N.C. State game that I’d been wanting to watch all day. Great game, but all I really want to say about this one is that the play-by-play man (whose name escapes me at the moment) had the best line of the night when, noting that the refs had just missed two obvious travels by each team, stated "I thought an NBA game broke out here for a moment." Perhaps the only thing more validating to me than that statement was that the Duke-N.C. State game was broadcast in HD, but the ESPN NBA game that followed, Denver vs. Cleveland, was being broadcast in standard definition. I definitely like where ESPN’s priorities are.

Until tomorrow (or perhaps Monday, depending if I catch any late games tonight)...

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Random Ramblings

The severe lack of area high school games was odd last night. The only game that I considered attending was the battle between Milwaukee Lutheran and Wisconsin Lutheran, presumably to determine who’s got the best handle on religious doctrine. It’s rare that I pass up a game between two teams this good that’s only minutes from my apartment, but I really wanted to see the Indiana-Illinois game on ESPN. And I really wanted to take the rare opportunity to cook a full meal for myself, so I stayed in. I caught most of the Indiana-Illinois game (which was excellent, by the way), and listened to most of the Marquette-DePaul game on the radio, in addition to flipping the channels a bit. Here are some truly random thoughts from the evening:

1) Until last night, I just thought that Shaun Pruitt was one of those guys that looks really big and strong, but can’t possibly move well with the muscle-bound frame that he carries around. But I have to give him credit–last night he spent the evening taking on Marco Killingsworth, and didn’t back down once. Sure, Killingsworth eventually got into a groove and got his points, but Pruitt either grew up a lot last night or showed how mature he is (hey, I don’t completely know, since I haven’t seen the Illini much until tonight).

2) Okay, so I didn’t see all of the Illinois-Indiana game. I got home from work about halfway into the first half, and consequently, didn’t get to see much of one of my favorite Illini, James Augustine, who spent much of the night in foul trouble. I also noticed as the half ended that between Illinois star Dee Brown, and Indiana star Marco Killingsworth, only 5 points were scored in the first half. Augustine’s on the bench, and neither Brown nor Killingsworth were scoring much–was I watching some sort of bizzaro game?

3) Post game, I checked ESPN for stats on the Illinois-Indiana game, and the link to the game recap that they prepared read "Killingsworth, #11 Indiana stun #5 Illinois." That statement seems a bit inaccurate to me. Before I explain, I’ll grant you a few things–from what I can tell, Illinois has been playing better than Indiana of late. Illinois is also ranked higher than Indiana. That said, can anyone truly say that Illinois should be "stunned" by this win? When one team that’s sitting just outside of the top-10 beats a team sitting at #5, how stunning is this, really? Furthermore, I think the consensus this year in the Big Ten is that just about any team can lose to any team (that’s not named Purdue or Penn State) on any given night. This game was not won on a shocking last minute shot, either. So come on ESPN, it was a great game–you don’t need to over-sell it by calling it stunning. That just ruins your credibility.

4) While taking in a bit of the Villanova-Seton Hall game, I happened to catch a bit of Seton Hall’s promotional spot that runs during games. It featured several students commenting on the experience of going to school at Villanova. It was a nice enough commercial, but I was a tad thrown off by one young woman’s comment that "You don’t just go through Villanova, Villanova also goes through you." Huh? I suppose she was trying to convey the feeling that Villanova is such a part of her that it’s in her blood, but that’s not what I was thinking. And I can’t be the only one who was thinking that the words "Villanova goes through you" sounds like what would happen to Villanova if you were to chase it with a glass of Metamucil. How did the people making the commercial miss this?

5) Though he’s not on the radio broadcast team anymore, it’s still comforting to hear George Thompson doing a handful of ads during the Marquette games. Even if I’m bitter that no George means that it’s nearly impossible to do an easy game recap by pointing out the absurd things that he says.

6) I know that a reader who knows more about this sort of thing than I commented to me once about why things like this happen, but I refuse to be accept his logic and facts. It still seems ridiculous to me that there was no television broadcast last night for the Marquette-DePaul game. I guarantee that every Wisconsin Big Ten game is going to be broadcast in the Milwaukee area, and it just would seem to make sense that the Big East should be able to televise every conference game in a team’s home market. Last night’s inability to get a television broadcast is even more insulting in light of the fact that I can readily recall the days from my childhood when Marquette was still an independent, and DePaul and Notre Dame seemed to be the only games that mattered each year. I suppose the fact that the DePaul game is just another conference game these days for Marquette is progress, but if I can’t watch the game itself, it’s disappointing progress to me.

7) I’d get excited about Jamil Lott starting for Marquette and getting more minutes than other big men (as I had advocated), but in the continuing saga of Marquette’s big man woes, I’m fairly sure that at some point within the next two weeks he’ll find himself coming off the bench and getting single-digit minutes. I’d like to stop being bitter about the lack of consistency in frontcourt minutes, but I just don’t think I can. I guess I just need something to be angry about, even when Marquette’s playing much better than expected.

8) Perhaps the most frightening moment in the Marquette game for me was a play coming out of a time-out where, in the middle of a DePaul run, Marquette committed a shot clock violation. As color commentator Jim McIlvaine noted, there’s no excuse for committing a shot clock violation coming out of a time-out. And he’s right. Thankfully, that’s not something that’s happened much this past year, but the violation was eerily reminiscent of the type of things that happened most of last season. To my relief, the Golden Eagles hung on for the win, proving that they’re not exactly last year’s team.

9) I guess it’s always nice to get a win on the road, but Marquette and Wisconsin really gave me scares with their recent games at DePaul and Minnesota respectively, where both blew huge first half leads. Is it too much to ask for that my teams close out games?

And with the end of the Marquette game, I turned in early as to be fresh today for work. And for that big Ohio State-Wisconsin game tonight. If the Badgers can somehow pull this one out, their favorable schedule will set them up very nicely for the rest of conference season. Let’s just hope things go well.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Lawrence vs. Grinnell: A Look Inside

Today in lieu of a game recap, I have a special treat. Some of you undoubtedly were aware that in addition to a handful of intriguing games involving all of my fair state’s division one college powers, there was a division three game of note taking place in Appleton, Wisconsin on Friday night. Indeed, I had a few friends email me about the fact that the game was available via webcast. What was so intriguing, you ask? That’s right, the Grinnell College Pioneers (from Iowa) were visiting the Lawrence University Vikings. Lawrence is off to an great start, going undefeated to this point in the season, making the Grinnell visit even more intriguing. Some of you may recall that Grinnell is the home of an innovative form of basketball that runs players in and out of the game in 1-2 minute shifts, and forces a tempo that’s as fast as possible. Shots, substitutions and fouls occur at record pace. It’s a novelty that was interesting enough to get ESPN to pick up a game of theirs last season. And it’s truly a bizarre thing to watch.

Of course, watching Grinnell last season, one of the things that crossed my mind is that running a game like that must be a logistical nightmare for the people involved in the game. Keeping track of what’s going on with so much action constantly occurring can’t be easy. How does one handle a game with substitutions numbering in the hundreds, and a virtual guarantee that 200 points will be scored?

Well, we’re all in luck, because today we’re going to be taking an inside look at what it’s like to be the man with the most important job in the gym during a crazy game like that. The one man, without whom, there would be no reason to play the game. That’s right–we’re talking to the scorekeeper.

You see, in an email to alert me to the webcast, my friend Ryan let it slip that he does scoring for Lawrence games, and would be handling the score book for the Grinnell game. Ryan, a former player at Lawrence, as well as a current employee (and general goodwill ambassador) for the school, is an avid basketball fan, and is near the top of my list of people who are fun to watch games with. Thus, while I was honored and thankful that he was willing to answer a few questions for me about the experience of working the table during an official scorer’s nightmare game, I was far from surprised that he was willing to do so.

So thanks again to Ryan, and without further adieu, here are his answers to a few questions that I posed to him on Monday:

1) Was there any mental or physical preparation that went into readying yourself for the challenge of scoring a game played at Grinnell's up-tempo style? I assume you at least did some wrist exercises to keep your writing hand limber, but anything else?

I was definitely nervous coming into Friday night. A lot of mental preparation went into scoring this game. I really focused on my technique and my "system" (yes, just like Grinnell, I have my own system) last weekend when I did the Ripon-Lawrence game. The Ripon game was only the second home game of the year for Lawrence, and they were somewhere around 46 days apart (they beat UW-Oshkosh at home on Nov 22 when UW-Zero was ranked #2 in the nation). The Ripon-Lawrence game was an exciting game and one that I usually really get into as a spectator. Scoring this game was a great way to prepare me for the Grinnell game. I lost my focus once during the Ripon game and the ref gave me a good holler to keep my focus. I got a little red in the face and flustered by this, but I needed it. I couldn't afford to do this during the Grinnell. Anyway, I definitely benefitted from working out a few kinks and tightening up my "system". I went into Friday night's game with two, fully-loaded Bic MatiC Grip mechanical pencils (0.5 mm #2), a Snickers bar, and a Gatorade. I like a writing utensil with a fine point and I also need something erasable in case I make a mistake (which I didn't), that's why I go with Bic mechanical pencils. I brought an extra pencil this game to be extra cautious, and made sure they were fully-loaded because I tend to press too hard and break the lead frequently. Over the last two years I've noticed that referees also press too hard when signing the scorebook and giving it the okay, and that is why I hand them a pen. (I used to hand them a regular old pencil, but thought that they might suspect me of being kind of a mechanical pencil snob and that way handing them a pen makes it look more official and permanent.) The Snickers and Gatorade were there to provide me with the energy and focus to make it through the game. I also took off my "LiveStrong" bracelet because I wear it on my writing-hand and I've noticed that wearing this changes the degree at which my wrist rests when writing, and the change in the degree of my wrist affects my speed.

2) I understand that the line changes for Grinnell are pretty consistent. Did the players individually report to you every time that they went into the game, or did they have some sort of expedited system (say, one of the guys telling you that the "B" group was going in)?

Funny you should ask this question. I think it's amusing that players always report to me. Why? Because I only mark them in the book the first time they enter a half and if they've already been in the game, I could care less who's going in for who. It's the only logical thing to do because the scorebook just doesn't allow you to record how often a player enters or leaves the game. The Lawrence Sports Information Director tracks all the stats during the game on his computer. A student assistant to the SID keeps track of players checking in and players checking out - that's all he does the entire game. I always make sure he knows who's going in for who, and sometimes when players report to me I refer them to the student-assistant. His job was a lot easier in tracking who's subbing for who because Grinnell does a whole-sale every 1-2 minutes. The gentleman who does the scoreboard is always asking players to get down when checking in. As Friday's game got closer and as Grinnell was going on runs, he really laid into them and barked at them to get down. I thought it was hilarious. He's a riot if you know him, and it was funny to hear his frustration let out on the unsuspecting Grinnell players when they were checking in.

3) As a man who used to pick up some spare change scoring high school games during his teen years, I've always wondered what happens to the box signifying that a player has checked in during a given half when that player checks in, say, eight times. On Grinnell's half of the book, did it just look like you were taking a standardized test?

I kind of touched on this one during my last answer. Seriously, what am I supposed to do? I've never bothered to ask anybody and it never seemed to matter. However, I did stop play during the game with about 1:15 remaining. A Grinnell player fouled out (one of three to do so) and Grinnell subbed five guys in before the first free throw of a double bonus (which Lawrence was in at about 12 minutes left in the second half). After the first free throw, David Arseneault, the coaches son, checked back into the game. Which I believed to be a no-no. We got the refs attention and he was sent back to the sideline. I had a good laugh because it was totally unnecessary with the game wrapped up for Lawrence with just over a minute left. Even Arseneault, the player, got a good laugh out of it.

Speaking of standardized tests, I must also add that Lawrence does not require applicants to submit standardized test scores for admission or scholarship. Lawrence is convinced that quality of high school curriculum and performance within that curriculum are better indicators of academic success than test scores. If students feel that their scores accurately represent their academic abilities, they may feel free to have them sent to us. If students feel that their scores do not accurately reflect their academic abilities, they need not send them. For more info about Lawrence's decision to adopt a test-optional approach, please refer to the following link:


(Hey, like I said, he’s a goodwill ambassador for the university.)

4) I understand that you have some pretty deep Lawrence ties. Any chance that you collaborated with the scoreboard operator to, you know, give a little assistance to Lawrence in getting the win? Come on, we won't tell anyone.

Well, I did mention that the scoreboard operator likes to yell at opposing players when Lawrence is losing or when the opposing team is going on a run. I try to remain nonpartisan (which is difficult at times) and I also try not to complain about bad or missed calls. However, you have to give referees a lot of credit. If people thought of referees as bullriders, I think there would be a lot less complaining. You see, everyone thinks they can ref. Few people actually think they could ride a bull. Reffing a game is a lot like riding a bull. You don't want to fall off or make a bad call, but it's bound to happen. I'd love to put an older, overweight lady in all-black Nike Shoks, dress her in vertical stripes, give her a whistle and tell her to officiate a game just as much as I'd like to see her bucked from a bull. If people thought of officiating in this way, there would be a whole lot less complaining at games. (Of course, some refs are actually rodeo clowns and deserve everything they get.)

Anyway, I usually make eye contact with the Lawrence assistant coach known as "The Giant" and give him a timeout update throughout the game and during timeouts. We have a system of full timeouts first, and then 30 second timeouts. For the away team, other than the courtesy one timeout remaining, they gotta show me some concern or inquire. I'm not going to go out of my way. That's about it when it comes to so-called "assistance" to the home team. I think the better your team is, the easier it is to be nonpartisan.

5) I assume you were pretty worn out from all the scorer's table action by the end of the game. So, were you able to make it home before going directly to bed, or did you just curl up in a ball in the corner of the gym?

I seriously had sweat through two shirts (both of which made from Nike Dri-Fit material - where was the wicking action!?) and had to stand during timeouts. The game got over at about 10pm. It seemed like we did a double-header. Grinnell fouled Lawrence 94 times during the game, and was called for 37 of them (see, what did I just say about bullriding). That and 36 turnovers resulted in a lot of stoppage of play.

6) Okay, two serious questions-I've seen neither team play this year (despite my touting of Lawrence as a team to watch during a radio interview earlier this year). Any legitimate basketball points you'd like to make with regards to this game? And since you'd be an expert on this, tell us why seeing a Lawrence game this year is undoubtedly a worthwhile experience.

Watching anybody grab 24 rebounds in a game is an amazing site. Chris Braier is of a higher power. His ability to be exactly where a missed shot caroms off the rim is comparable to David Blaine's ability to levitate - it's freaky. He's rarely (if ever) the tallest player on the court. He's pure will and determination. He is the MWC's round mound of rebound. He also had a double-double halfway into the first half.

Anytime Grinnell plays, it's not a real basketball game. I hated playing against Grinnell and ultimately now have a strong hatred towards Grinnell College; Grinnell, Iowa; Iowa; and states beginning with the letter "i". I hated scoring 29 points (on 11 of 14 shooting), grabbing 12 rebounds and handing out 8 assists at home against their "system" my senior year because anybody with reasonable basketball ability and intelligence can do it. To beat Grinnell, you need 5 players who can remain calm, make smart decisions, be strong with the ball, and can finish layups. It's all about discipline. It's like eating a bag of Cheetos and resisting the urge to lick your fingers until your done eating them (otherwise, eating Cheetos with freshly moistened fingers
only adds to your finger's ability to attract orange cheese at an exponential rate, increase your ability to make a mess, and make cleaning up a heck of a lot harder).

As much as I dislike Grinnell, they have some pretty good players. Paul Nordlund reminds me a bit of Dirk Nowitzki - he's a tall gunner. #12, John Grotberg is a legitimately great basketball player from Ann Arbor, MI. I was very impressed with his play. Grinnell's system allows shooters to shoot with great confidence. There's no worries to go 6 of 17 from behind the arc - which is exactly what this freshman did. Grinnell also has a 6'9" kid who has a lot of potential.

Lawrence is currently off to its best start in school history (12-0). They play Carroll College on Wednesday night who is also undefeated in conference play. Chris Braier is simply amazing and fun to watch. You can tell he's the hardest worker out on the floor and also, he smiles the most. He's having fun and I admire that - that's why I love watching him play. Kyle MacGillis is the most unconventional basketball player I've ever seen. I don't know why or how he's as good as he is. He dribbles with his head down and the ball comes up to his shoulders when he dribbles. Also, his shot is different every time he shoots. He's off-balanced when he shots, and the other night I saw him end up at the elbow after shooting a free throw. He averaged 26.5 points this weekend and he's also the team's best defender. I saw him go 1 for 9 against Ripon and then a week later go 10 for 13 (6 of 7 on 3s) against Lake Forest. I love this guy too. Keven Bradley is senior who transferred from UW-Stevens Point last year. He's playing like a senior and is incredibly poised. He's the rock on this team. I saw him do something I've never seen or heard of in my life before, last week against Ripon he scored the final 20 points of the game for Lawrence and went 8 for 8 from the floor (5 of 5 on 3s). Ryan Kroeger, a freshman guard, is a poor-man's Travis Diener. He's exciting to watch and has one of the prettiest shots I've ever seen in Division III. He doesn't play like a freshman and isn't afraid to shoot.

So there’s the insider's view. Thanks again to Ryan. And of course, I’d highly suggest to any basketball fan that they drop in on a Lawrence game this year if they have the chance. As Ryan notes, it’s high quality basketball. I’ve not been to a Viking game yet myself, but I guarantee there will be at least one that I squeeze in prior to the end of the year.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Seventeen Again

After writing way too many game updates last weekend, I actually got a life and hung out with some friends in a non-basketball setting this weekend (other than watching the Marquette and Wisconsin games on TV at a bar). Of course, I still watched plenty of basketball, culminating with the phenomenal double-overtime thriller between Michigan State and Ohio State.

But before all that, I got to a high-profile high school game between Wauwatosa East and Brookfield Central, the top two contenders to win the Greater Metro Conference. I took in the game with my friends Dez and Kevin, who most of you already know are some of my more entertaining game-watching pals. So for today’s notes, I’m primarily offering my game thoughts from that game. Here they are:

1) I arrived at the Wauwatosa East gym with Kevin about 35 minutes or so before tip. Kevin hadn’t eaten yet, and requested a stop at the concession stand. He eyed up the offerings of the stand and then questioned me as to whether the chili was good. I was probably the wrong person to ask, since though I’ve been to tons of high school games over the years, I almost never stop at a high school concession stand. Nonetheless, I think my response of "They have chili? Wow, I never would have guessed that," was probably the response that most people would have given in that situation. In fact, this is pure speculation on my part, but I wouldn’t be shocked if this was the only high school basketball venue in the state of Wisconsin where chili is readily available as a game time snack.

2) Though I’ve taken in many games in the Wauwatosa East gym, it wasn’t until Friday night, when I sat at the far eastern end of the gym, that during the national anthem I noticed that it’s probably about time that the school looked into purchasing a new American flag. Unless, that is, the new colors are red, beige and blue. There was some serious yellowing going on in that flag. Although, it was comforting to know that the flag was probably old enough that back in my student years I probably bounced an errant volleyball or two off of it in gym class.

3) Part of my motivation for coming to the game, aside from the fact that it was the marquee high school game in the area on Friday night, was that, shocking as this may seem, I had never seen Brookfield Central’s star guard Scott Bagguley play before. For some reason, I’ve just not seen any Brookfield Central games over the past couple of years, which is odd, because it’s a team that’s typically well-coached and has some talent. In any event, Bagguley didn’t totally blow me off the court on Friday night, but he did do a lot of good things. Most notably, I liked the way that he kept an even keel, and kept coming back after big Tosa East plays. I can think of at least two instances where Tosa East had impressive baskets, and Bagguley pushed the ball right back up the court for easy Brookfield Central scores. Nothing rattled him, which I found impressive.

4) Speaking of not getting rattled, my friend Dez pointed out something that I think I had sort of noticed before, but never really thought much about–Tosa East’s point guard, E.G. Ortiz seems completely unfazed by the actions of his head coach, the always-animated George Haas. It’s not that he’s not paying attention, but he just takes things more in stride than the average player. Where most players might nod their head furiously or show frustration in their body language, Ortiz just takes in the info and goes about his business. Shortly after Dez noted this calm demeanor, Haas reinserted Ortiz into the game, and as Ortiz finished getting instructions, he just nodded at Haas and patted him on the butt. There’s not a lot of guys out there cool enough to make that move look completely appropriate, but Ortiz is one of them.

5) Tonight was my first game this season at the Tosa East gym, which reminded me of just how uncomfortable a place it is to watch a game that’s well attended. I spent the entire game trying to strike that balance between not allowing my knees to jut forward into the back of the person in front of me, but not sitting far enough back on my part of the bleachers to take away the space that the person behind me was rightly entitled to. I’ve decided that if I ever win the lottery, one of my first orders of business will be to donate fieldhouses to the high schools in the area which have the least comfortable gyms for watching basketball. Sure, I’ll destroy some charm that comes with taking in a game in an old gym, but at least I’ll have a place to stretch my legs.

6) As per usual, Tosa East’s Jerry Smith was phenomenal, with the highlight of the evening being back-to-back breakaway dunks that both occurred within about a 10-second time span. After the number of great things I’ve said about this guy over the years, I can’t use any more superlatives to describe this guy. Even when he was taking bad shots, his ability to get free to take those bad shots was mind-boggling.

7) Brookfield Central had a fairly solid roster of players alongside Bagguley, perhaps the most notable of which was David Kersey, who in addition to leading the team in scoring with 19 points, drew the assignment of being the primary defender on Jerry Smith. It was unfortunate to watch Kersey be involved in a fluke play near the end of the game where the ball bounced off of his foot and out of bounds, helping to seal the Lancers’ fate, because he really had played a great game. Anyone who can chase Smith around all night and still find the energy to drop in 19 points is okay with me.

8) Since this was a big game, with lots of cameras, and a couple of spirited fan bases, it was time for another game where the student sections created the atmosphere. I have to say that Tosa East’s students put on one of the better displays of creative, good-natured cheering that I’ve seen in some time. Perhaps the highlight was during a break in play in the second half when the began chanting "Stand up Brookfield!" at the opposing fans, and once the Central fans stood up, changed the chant to "Sit down Brookfield." The evening on a whole was maybe the best display that I’ve seen from a school that typically has an impressive body of fans. And there was only one cheer that drew a supervisor out of his seat, so it was mostly clean stuff, as well. My only criticism of the Tosa East students would be their early liberal use of the "Scoreboard!" chant, which can really come back to bite you if you’re not careful. I recall very clearly from my student days that there’s nothing sweeter than winning a game and throwing a "Scoreboard" chant back in the face of someone that’s used it prematurely.

9) As per usual, Tosa East’s Jeff Donovan deserves note for his solid, steady play. I’m probably going to just come up with a code phrase for this, since it happens so much that it’s almost not worth typing the whole thing out.

10) The game itself ended up being a pretty good one. Brookfield Central had its chances down the stretch, but just couldn’t sink free-throws. If they fix that problem, and are a bit more effective at closing down the lane on defense, this could be another game that goes down to the wire again. And it’s another one that I’m pretty sure I’ll be at.

And with the Tosa East 61-57 victory, I headed out to meet up with some friends who for some reason wanted to go bowling. It was kind of a creepy night for me, in that watching high school basketball at my old school and going bowling is pretty much exactly the type of thing that I would have done about 10 years ago when I was in high school. At least I didn’t end up calling my mother for a ride home. Actually, I ended up as the sober guy who was driving my friend home after he had a bit too much to drink. So it really was as if I was 17 again...

Friday, January 13, 2006

Nothing For You Today

I've got no update for you today, since I didn't catch a game last night. I didn't arrive at my home until 9pm, following an early evening commitment, and I really wanted to finish the book (that's completely unrelated to basketball) that I've been reading. So the bad news is that I have nothing to talk about today, but the good news is that because I typically read no more than two books per calendar year (barring those times when I'm travelling, and I can plow through three in a weekend), expansion of my mind will now officially take a backseat to watching basketball.

If you're really dying for something entertaining to read, check out this game report over at the Mid-Majority, that focuses not on the game itself, but rather, some really bad pizza in the media room. Let's face it, sometimes you need to look outside of the game itself for the real story, and Kyle Whelliston nails it here. The piece has been around for awhile, but in the off chance you haven't seen it, it's required reading. Hopefully you'll start chuckling as quickly as I did, but if you don't, don't worry--it just means that you don't have much of a sense of humor.

I'll be back after a weekend that features games with interesting sub-plots for every team that I follow closely. And yes, my allegiance will be torn while I'm watching Marquette play against Kevin Pittsnogle's team.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

UWM vs. Loyola: A Frightening Escape

Last evening I made my way down to the MECCA arena to see just my third UWM game (in person) of the year. It was a tough night to do so, with two marquee games on ESPN (both of which I would have happily watched) and a Marquette game on TV. Per yesterday’s post, I had planned to record the Marquette game and play it back later, but that playback was derailed for reasons that will become clear in my following points:

1) Until player introductions, I had totally forgotten that former Whitefish Bay Dominican star Walter "J.R." Blount was playing for Loyola. I’ve had a couple people ask me this year if I knew how he was doing, but I hadn’t checked up on Loyola at all this year. Well, apparently he’s doing pretty well, since he’s starting, and was instrumental in leading the nearly successful comeback of the Ramblers, before finishing with 18 points. I never noticed that type of talent on the few occasions that I had the chance to see him in high school, but it looks like people are going to be sad for awhile that Blount chose to leave the state for college.

2) Adrian Tigert’s hair looked pretty plain last night. Tigert always looks like he’s gelled up for the game, but last night looked like he had no product whatsoever in his hair. Could he be reacting to harassment from his teammates about his metro-sexual traits, or was he just too busy to get styled up for the game last night? I guess we’ll find out in coming weeks.

3) Kevin Massiah had an absolutely ridiculous dunk last night. He came down the lane in a fairly unassuming manner, but then at the last minute just exploded to the hoop like I’ve never seen. For the most part, Massiah hasn’t done anything eye-popping this year, but that dunk definitely opened a lot of eyes. And unfortunately, it would end up being the only dunk of the night, leaving the Panthers four dunks short of ensuring a free fried chicken dinner for all patrons during the nightly Popeye’s "Dunk With Attitude" promotion.

4) Dez and I were chatting about an old standard topics that we sometimes discuss: creating a pay-per-view channel with bizarre programming that we would pay big money to watch. The best example of this is the "Our Friend Greg On a Date" channel, where we watch our buddy Greg fumble around on dates with random women (Of course, now that Greg has a serious girlfriend, that idea’s out the window). However, I’ve got to give Dez credit for coming up with a new channel to rival that one: the "Adrian Tigert vs. Brian Butch Dunk Competition" channel. Has anyone seen either of these guys dunk this year? Of course, this sort of neglects Marquette’s Steve Novak, who dunks infrequently, so maybe we could invite him, too. Assuming that we can label Novak as a power forward (which is something that would be done only for convenience sake), I think that we can confidently say that there’s no state that has three less powerful power forwards than Wisconsin (Green Bay, though I’m no expert on them, seems to actually have some bulk down low, so we’ll lay off of them). Strangely, though, they’re all great players.

5) Last night was one of the best Jumbotron nights that I’ve ever encountered. There were no gimmicks like the "kiss cam" or the "flex cam," but two moments still stood out. First, there was an extended shot of a guy in a neck brace who looked like he had no interest in being at the game. Given that he was in a neck brace and couldn’t crane his head to look at the Jumbotron, he wasn’t even aware of his heightened public scrutiny. Second, as old and uncreative as it is, I can’t help but get a small chuckle when I see someone give the middle finger to the camera when they’re on the scoreboard. Yes, sometimes I do have the psyche of a teenage boy.

6) The halftime competition last night was a really week competition between two guys to see who could put together a puzzle from pieces spread out on the court. The moment I heard what was going on, I started to look at Dez to say "This is the worst halftime competition I’ve seen since we went to Northwestern and the did the word jumble at halfcourt." Before I could get the words out of my mouth, Dez looked at me and tossed out the name "Sven Macheyere," which was the incorrect jumble name determined by the Northwestern participant (the correct answer, of course, was Evan Eschmeyer). It’s a little bit frightening to go to a game with someone who knows exactly what absurd things I’m thinking, but it does make for good conversation.

7) Dez noted that in the last UWM game he had gone to, a friend of his had noted that the UWM mascot, Victor E. Panther, was wearing a jersey that not only wasn’t the current UWM jersey, but didn’t seem like it was ever used by UWM. That seemed pretty weak–you’ve got to give the mascot a proper uniform. Then I noticed at the half that the mascot’s costume was authentic, but he was just wearing the secondary warm-up jersey of the Panthers. I still thought that was kind of weak, and still believe that there should be money in the athletic budget to get the mascot an oversized authentic jersey. I didn’t mind Dez’s suggestion on this topic–that the mascot should just get Luke Homan’s (a talented, sharpshooting walk-on guard who always looked sort of pudgy, and transferred to UW-LaCrosse after last season) old jersey.

8) After watching a few Panther games this year, one thing is clear to me: Jason McCoy is a totally different player this year. Last year he was a sub who was good for about 10 minutes per game, and existed largely just to guard the inbounds pass. This year, I was shocked to see him starting at the beginning of the season, but he’s a legitimate starter, and works perfectly in the UWM rotation.

9) Great game for Loyola’s Blake Schilb, who dropped 24 points on UWM despite spending a good chunk of the game on the bench with foul trouble. A nice job was also done by Loyola forward Tracy Robinson, who entered the game for Schilb, and appeared to get more minutes that he’s accustomed to. As active as Robinson was, one would guess that he earned a few more minutes last night.

10) One of the most entertaining facets for me of attending games is the occasional times that you get seated in front of a couple of total idiots. Last night was such a case. The guys that Dez and I were sitting in front of were so clueless that I hesitate to comment on them for fear that one of them had a legitimate mental disability, which I would never want to mock. But I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the case, so I’ll commence with describing the madness. Perhaps the most over-riding aspect of their fandom was their decision early on that one of Loyola’s forwards, who had an afro, somehow looked like Ronald McDonald, a clown with curly red hair. It was a tenuous comparison, at best. Nonetheless, for the rest of the evening, I was treated to taunts like "Choke on a Happy Meal, Ronald!" and "Go get me a free Big Mac!" These were not only borderline non-sensical, they were ineffective from the upper deck of the MECCA, even if yelled at the top of one’s lungs (as they constantly were). And of course, these guys also happened to get the score of the Marquette game and openly discuss it, destroying any chance that I would have to watch the game later as if it was live. That latter annoyance is really more my hang up than their fault, but it was still the icing on the cake for me.

I could go on about these two for awhile, but I’ll just say that they were entertaining in their lack of knowledge or social skills, and leave it at that. They definitely make my top three all time most foolish fans that I’ve sat in front of.

11) As the score (UWM 78, Loyola 75) indicates, the game got pretty tight in the closing minutes. Thus, I was perplexed during the closing minutes to look out on the floor and not see Joah Tucker. There’s probably a logical explanation to all this, and it’s probably in the morning newspaper (which I almost never read before doing my updates, for fear of tainting my analysis with too much factual information), but I still don’t understand why you put the leading candidate for conference player of the year on the bench with a two point lead and a minute to go.

12) While leaving the arena, Dez and I ran into a friend who noted that the Green Bay Packers had just offered the head coaching job to someone. The friend then properly noted that due to this development, UWM’s game would probably now be pushed to the 11th page of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s sports section. Indeed, it was only on page 6, but in fairness, the sports page was only 10 pages long today, and you need a couple pages for box scores and such.
So UWM, despite being in control most of the game, pulled out a squeaker at the end. They never threw a knock-out punch, but generally looked good. They’re still in the middle of a great stretch of basketball, though, and should keep on rolling. Let’s just hope they don’t go down to the wire every night.

And with the score of the Marquette game already revealed to me by the idiots behind me, I chose to save that recording for the weekend and check out the Duke-Maryland game, which I had recorded as a back-up, just in case someone ruined the drama of the Marquette game by revealing the score. Of course, in the Duke-Maryland game, Duke pretty much destroyed the drama by halftime by destroying Maryland, but I guess that’s always a risk when you’re watching Duke. Not a bad night of hoops, though. Not a bad night at all.

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