Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Gonzaga vs. San Francisco: No Surprises in the WCC

Last night was a TV night for me. I was a bit too late getting home from work and running errands to catch Pitt-West Virginia, the game I really wanted to see, so I sat down for a late game. Rather than just tossing on ESPN for the conventional Oklahoma State -Oklahoma game, I flipped on Gonzaga vs. San Francisco. After all, as my enjoyment of Duke implies, I’m a guy that easily buys into media hype, and Gonzaga’s certainly enjoying hype this year. Plus they’re usually pretty fun to watch. Thus, here are my one-sided game notes that focus on the Bulldogs, rather than the Dons. San Francisco probably deserves a bit more respect, with that whole leading the game much of the night and nearly taking the #5 team in the country to overtime, but does anyone outside of the Bay area really care what’s going on with the 11-16 Dons? I didn’t think so, so here are my Gonzaga-centric points, pared down to also focus on the end of the game, since the post game was nearly as brilliant as the actual game.

1) All night the announcers kept talking about how J.P. Batista’s brother was flying in from Brazil as a surprise to J.P. during his final home game. One problem, though-his plane was delayed. The announcers kept talking about a second half arrival, but to my knowledge, it never happened (though I could be mistaken, since I missed a key moment of post-game festivities). So while I guess that it’s cool that Batista’s brother made it into town, I wish the announcers had had an alternate item to talk about. Because when I hear somewhere in the neighborhood of five references to the excitement that we’re going to see out of Batista when he sees his brother, then damn it, I want to see that excitement on live TV
2) As I alluded to not long ago, Gonzaga has reached a television presence that is astounding. I was actually somewhat surprised that they weren’t on ESPN last night, since ESPN has picked up so many of their games this year. The incredible thing about Gonzaga, though, is that even if their game isn’t on ESPN, there’s still a good chance that it will be on Fox Sports Pacific. I may call Gonzaga the late-night version of Duke (due to West Coast game times), but even Duke can’t get random mid-week games picked up on FSN. I would have to estimate that if I was a dedicated Bulldog fan, I probably would have been able to see all but four of their games this year. And it’s not as if I have some phenomenal cable package. Marquette and the Big East might want to talk to someone about Spokane about what needs to be done to get more TV time. Maybe Dan Fitzgerald could grow a mustache?

3) People talk about how great Adam Morrison is, but you tend to forget that he has such a great supporting cast (particularly in light of Morrison vs. J.J. Redick player of the year talk, where Redick’s supporting cast is always correctly described as better, even though they might not be as vastly superior as most people think). Last night down the stretch, the final two key baskets of the game came from J.P. Batista and Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes. Batista scored easily on a sweet drop step with just under 30 seconds to go, and Altidor-Cespedes sunk a game-winning three-pointer as the team cleared out for a Morrison drive, but was surprised by a Morrison pass. Nope, the Bulldogs are anything but a one-man show.

4) I think I’ve stated this before, and it’s probably a good topic for a future full post, but I’ll just say it for now–in the player of the year race, count me as a J.J. Redick supporter. Not the least of these reasons is the manner in which the man Morrison was guarding took him baseline on the second-to-last possession of the game. Sure, it wasn’t an easy shot, but if you’re player of the year, I don’t think it should be that easy to get the first step on you (even if defense isn’t really your thing).

5) In one of the more entertaining things I’ve seen all year, a local Spokane TV station decided to stream coverage of post game festivities of senior night on their website. Fox Sports promoted this just slightly less than the forthcoming reunion between Batista and his brother. Unfortunately for me, the post-game events were remarkably efficient, and my 5-minute break between the end of the game and my turning on my computer to check out the post-game coverage led to me missing the seniors addressing the crowd. I did get to see the cutting down of the nets, but somehow I think that probably paled in comparison to the fun that would ensue with the team directly addressing the crowd. Why can’t I be quicker on these things?

6) Side note on cutting down the nets–I’m not one to deny fun, and I certainly don’t begrudge Gonzaga for cutting down the nets to celebrate their WCC championship, and their last home game of the year. However, there’s part of me that thinks it’s still a little ridiculous to stage such a celebration when you’ve been the overwhelming favorite all year, and there was virtually no chance that someone else would win the conference. It also didn’t help that Gonzaga was down much of the night to a sub-.500 team. Again, I’m all in favor of celebrating accomplishments, but this one just doesn’t seem like a gigantic accomplishment.

7) Highlight of the night was the post-game interview conducted with Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes. When asked how he planned on celebrating his game-winning shot, he replied "I don't know, I don't know. I haven't had the chance to celebrate it yet...so, I'll see what I'm gonna do about that." Perhaps it was the serious tone in which Altidor-Cespedes spit out his answer, or the stoic look on his face 15 minutes earlier when he hit the shot, or maybe it was the fact that he was looking directly into the camera when he made his statement, but I genuinely believed that he was actually going to have to look into figuring out how to celebrate. You can’t beat a reaction like that.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the first night of high school playoffs. Odds are decent that I’ll try to get out to a game somewhere tonight, though the exact location is still up in the air.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Weekend Hodgepodge

For reasons that I won’t get into, it was a draining weekend, so all I’ve got for you are a few brief points from the hodgepodge of basketball that I enjoyed this weekend.

1) I was watching the Duke-Temple game as J.J. Redick became the all-time leading scorer in ACC history. He broke the record while shooting free throws. One of the TV announcers then noted that it was ironic that he broke the foul shot at the line, since he’s known for his three-point shooting. This may be one of the dumbest points that I’ve heard made all year, since the statement overlooks that aside from Redick’s three-point shooting, the thing that announcers spend most of their time fawning over is Redick’s foul shooting. So really, I think that the manner in which Redick took the scoring title was not ironic, but rather, was undeniably appropriate.

2) During the last couple of games where Redick has been making a run at the record, they’ve showed snippets of interviews with now former record-holder, Dickie Hemric of Wake Forest. First off–I think there at a lot of good reasons why you don’t see a lot of guys going by the name "Dickie" these days, but I think one reason that’s probably overlooked is that there’s something sort of ridiculous about seeing a guy in his early 70s that goes by the name of "Dickie." That said, Hemric looks pretty good for a guy who’s past 70 years of age. He’s not at his playing weight or anything, but if not for the talk about him playing his last year of college hoops in 1955, I wouldn’t have figured he was as old as he is.

3) I’m not sure what to make of Ray Nixon theory after this weekend. Wisconsin beat Minnesota, but I wouldn’t say that Nixon played a stellar game. He wasn’t bad, though, so for my purposes, I’m just going to say that Ray Nixon had an average game, and that’s why the Badgers win was not in a convincing manner. See, I love Nixon theory, because I can spin it just about any way to back myself up.

4) I was watching part of North Carolina vs. Maryland on Sunday, and Tyler Hansbrough was having another great game. This got me thinking about how many great freshmen are out there this year. Maybe part of it is just because Marquette has so many solid freshmen and I see them every week, but I can’t recall a time when so many impact freshmen in the country have readily been at the front of my mind.

5) Indiana beating Michigan State again proved to me that no matter what I think I know about basketball, I’m probably wrong.

6) I’ve seen painfully little basketball this year outside of those played in by Wisconsin-based teams, ACC media darlings, and Gonzaga (the late-night version of Duke). Thus, I’ve missed some pretty obvious teams during my basketball watching. But this weekend I tried to make up for that a bit, and yeah, Villanova and Texas are pretty good. In fact, I’m really kicking myself for not checking out Villanova earlier, because they seem really fun to watch.

7) Big thanks go out to Detroit for beating Butler and ensuring that the Horizon League tournament will be hosted by UWM in Milwaukee rather than Butler in Indianapolis. I was a bit worried that I had made my last trip to the Mecca this year, but I guess there will be time for at least one more rum-infused smoothie in a tiki cup. Let’s just hope that the Horizon tourney is the last chance for this, because I don’t want to end up going to an NIT game at the Mecca.

8) Due to a variety of factors, my friends and I didn’t end up seeking out any of the Milwaukee-area taverns showing the Marquette game on Saturday night (though I do thank everyone who suggested a spot to me–there were some good ones in there). Instead, we all hung out and my friend Dave gave us score updates on his cell phone as the game went on. Yes, we were those guys.

I’m still crafting my schedule for the week, but hopefully I’ll be back tomorrow with something significantly more interesting than today’s update.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Worst Night Ever

It was a double-header for me tonight, taking in the Wauwatosa East home finale against West Allis Central, and heading home to watch the Wisconsin-Northwestern game on the DVR box. And it was a really rough night all around. Thoughts on the high school game first:

I didn’t think I was going to see Jerry Smith’s last high school game last night, but that’s what ended up happening.

It wasn’t all that exciting a game. Jerry Smith had poured in 31 points by the half, and Tosa East’s lead was near 30 as the teams went into the locker room, so the only drama left was to see if Smith could break the school single-game scoring record of 47 points in one game, set a few years back by a guy named Devin Harris.

Smith started a bit more slowly in the second half, but eventually built his point total up to within striking distance. Not long after the fourth quarter began, Smith quickly brought his point total to 46. The Tosa East student section began chanting “Two more points!” West Allis Central took the ball down court and missed a shot. The Red Raiders brought the ball up, ready for Smith to take one more shot, break the scoring record, and leave the game.

And that’s about the point in time that you could see that Smith had suddenly developed a noticeable limp.

He tried to play through it, staying on the floor for probably 30 seconds after the limp began. During his last possession, wanting to end the evening as quickly as possible so that he could get out of the game, Smith tossed up a three-pointer from right in front of the Tosa East bench. The shot off the mark, he immediately went to sit down, before play had even stopped. Scoring record be damned–Smith was looking to get off his feet as quickly as possible.

Eventually Smith headed down to the end of the bench with the trainer for the final 5+ minutes of the game. I never really saw what happened to cause the injury, but the less than encouraging signs post-injury included the trainer icing Smith’s foot rather than his ankle, and thereafter giving him crutches as he left the gym during the final minutes. I wasn’t positive of what happened, but by the time I finished writing this account, the Journal Sentinal had already reported what I feared. It was a broken foot. Had you tried, you couldn’t have scripted a more crushing moment for it to happen.

So now I’ve seen Jerry Smith’s first high school game, and his last high school game. I just wish that the last one would have come a bit later. Best of luck at Louisville, Mr. Smith–I certainly appreciate all the entertainment that you’ve provided me over the past few years.

So, on to the lighter part of the evening–Wisconsin basically blowing any shot that they had at a Big Ten championship:

1) Earlier in the day a friend of mine residing in North Carolina expressed some excitement to me over the fact that the game was slated to be shown on ESPN2, thus allowing him to watch the game. He did, however, pose the question as to why ESPN2 would pick up this particular game. Wisconsin-Northwestern isn’t exactly something that would have looked like a sexy match-up at the beginning of the season. My reply? At least they’re not covering the game in HD. Imagine my surprise when after the game I saw high-definition highlights on Sportscenter (I don’t have ESPN2HD, so I couldn’t tell during the game). So let me get this straight, the high definition equipment wasn’t available for the first Duke-North Carolina game, but it was around for this one? I guess the Super Bowl must have really tied up all of the Disney-owned networks’ cameras during the Duke-Carolina week.

2) I had always been impressed that Bernard Cote had not one, but two accents in his name, but tonight for the first time I noticed that Vedran Vukusic had two accents in his name, as well. Have I, despite my intense love of Vukusic’s game over the last couple of years, completely missed this fact, or did Vedran just recently add these accents in an attempt to show up his teammate? And furthermore, Vukusic has accents over the “s” and the “c” in the name on his jersey. I didn’t even know you could have an accent over a consonant. Maybe that’s why I used to get Cs in French class.

3) I loved the fact that ESPN2 showed Bernard Cote’s girlfriend, and not just because she was very attractive. The back-story was good, too. Apparently they met because she was assigned to tutor him. Of course, then, my first thought was that Cote is like a real-life version of Henry Steele, the protagonist from One On One, maybe the best bad basketball movie to come out of the 1970s. It would be even more stunning if Cote’s last game before transferring from Kentucky involved him replacing an injured player and going on to lead the Wildcats in scoring, thereby showing up coach Tubby Smith who had been riding him all season in an attempt to get him to give up his scholarship. Yeah, sorry if I just ruined the movie for you, but One On One’s best attribute isn’t its plot, so I still encourage you to watch it if you can find a copy.

4) Hey Vince Scott–thanks for making me look like an idiot. I told my friend The Franchise, who was over checking out the game with me, that you were a pretty decent outside shooter for a big man. Then you go and fire off some of the biggest bricks that I’ve seen this year. I’m sure you enjoyed ruining my credibility.

5) At the beginning of the year, I flat out stated that I didn’t think that Northwestern was all that great of a team. I guess my feelings don’t differ all that much, in terms of individual talent. I still think Vukusic and Mohamed Hachad are the only guys that I would want from the Wildcats. I still feel physical pain while watching Tim Doyle. But I can’t deny that a Bill Carmody-coached team is fun to watch, or that this particular team really took it to the Badgers. Hook shots, back door cuts, precision passes, and that one ridiculous reverse lay-up that Hachad threw up when well-guarded by Brian Butch were all things that did Wisconsin in. My dislike of Northwestern (again, not sure what it is that bugs me about Northwestern, but I have had an odd, irrational hatred of them for some time now–maybe it’s games like this) is nearly tempered by how much I like Carmody.

6) The announcers in the first half made a comment about how Wisconsin is tough to beat because they run a lot of clock when they have the ball on offense and really shorten the game. In the second half, they were giving Northwestern credit for slowing down Wisconsin’s offensive output and dictating the slow pace of the game. So which is it guys? Does Wisconsin slow down the game by using lots of time on each possession, or did Northwestern force them to slow things down? You can’t have it both ways.

7) No big game from Ray Nixon tonight, and the Badgers lost. I know there were many other factors, and that you can’t really prove my Ray Nixon theory with a negative, but it doesn’t hurt my cause now, does it?

And I’m going to end it there for tonight. I’m pretty down about having to watch the Badgers blow their shot, but I’m even more down about seeing a player that’s been a joy to watch for four years.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Why I Love Knight School

I want to talk about Knight School today, but first, two notes on ridiculous plays from last night's Duke-Georgia Tech game. And yes, both are directly attributable to Duke's talent:

1) Anyone else see Duke's Josh McRoberts on the play where he stole the ball, and started a fastbreak where he dribbled behind his back twice in succession as two separate defenders cut him off, before pulling off a bit because Duke didn't have numbers? If I had seen Chris Paul or Raymond Felton do this last year, I would have been blown away at the moves. But Duke's power forward pulling this out? That's just not fair.

2) Second ridiculous moment of the game was a moment when Sheldon Williams had the ball on the block, and began to fake a cross-court pass to J.J. Redick, who was standing behind the three point line. Two Georgia Tech defenders bought the fake, forgetting that Williams was standing one small leap from an uncontested dunk, which is how the play eventually ended. Kind of a nice luxury to have a player so deadly from behind the arc that defenders forget that there's an All-American candidate standing two feet from the hoop ready to dunk the ball.

Enough about that, though: On to Knight School:

A couple days ago, I noted that after only one episode, I’m hooked on Knight School, the ESPN reality show about Bobby Knight conducting walk-on try-outs at Texas Tech. Undoubtedly, there will be lots more to say about the show as time goes on, but today I’d like to lay out exactly what I thought was so outstanding about the show. For me, it boils down to two separate reasons.

First and foremost, the idea of sports reality shows is a concept that is still largely untapped by television producers, and Knight School is one of the first forays into this genre. In a lot of ways, that’s sort of a surprise, since sports seems so naturally suited for reality TV treatment. After all, even if the cameras aren’t documenting it, Bobby Knight’s still going to have to make cuts during walk-on try-outs. The same can’t be said of a show like, say, The Bachelor (which I’ve never seen, by the way), which is totally contrived. I can’t say that I’ve ever had a friend who was in a situation where he had a set amount of time and a set group of 20 women from which to choose his mate.

Given that there are few sports reality shows, the only thing that I can think to compare Knight School to is WWE Tough Enough, a guilty pleasure of mine from a few years back (and a show that once featured former UWM basketball star Chad Angeli as a contestant). Both shows have basically the same elements–a group of fresh-faced hopefuls, a veteran teacher who holds all the answers, intense physical and mental obstacles to overcome, and perhaps the only truly contrived facet of the sports reality genre, everyone living in the same house. The prizes are similarly underwhelming, as well, with the winners of Tough Enough receiving a contract to be a WWE wrestler, a job that entails constant travel and physical abuse, and the winner of Knight School earning the right to be berated by Bobby Knight in practice for a year. Thus, the drive by any of the participants on either of these shows is tough to understand on a logical level. However, that’s sort of the great thing about these shows. While in your head you know that the winners of each of these shows get a prize that very few people would want, the inner athlete in you also sort of understands why they compete so hard for the prize. This is also the reason that I’m sort of shocked we haven’t seen more sports-based reality shows. If a guy like me, who hasn’t even watched pro wrestling since he was 12 years old, can have an emotional reaction to contestants on a pro-wrestling reality show, just imagine how easy to watch Knight School, and other eventual imitators will be.

The second thing that I love about this show is the glimpse that it gives us into the world of Bobby Knight. Though he’s not one of the competitors, make no mistake–Knight’s the star of this show. And rightfully so, because he’s an interesting guy. You can’t not have an opinion on Bob Knight. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of Knight, and have always found him to be an obnoxious bully. Knight School, however, does a wonderful job of showing the complexity of Bobby Knight. Certainly there are things on the show that reinforce my dislike of Knight. In particular, I loved/hated the scene where he’s asking his assistants for numbers of players that they would cut, and explodes on two of them for reading their numbers too fast, sarcastically noting that he’s not a stenographer. Thereafter, he further expresses his displeasure that numbers are not being given to him in numerical order, despite his giving no prior instructions to read the numbers in this way. He blows the entire situation way out of proportion. That’s the obnoxious bully Knight.

But the genius coach and teacher Knight is in there, as well. As much as someone like me might dislike Knight, they’d be a fool if they could not see that the guy is remarkably impressive. Knight’s command of the floor, and creativity stand out as his strengths. It’s hard to explain, but seeing Knight on the floor with this group of walk-ons, you could tell that he just has a presence that commands respect. It goes beyond the fact that he’s Bobby Knight, a legendary big-name coach. It’s related to a deeper command of the game, and of people that he has. He exudes confidence. The fact that this confidence gives him such control over situations is perhaps what leads to such intense outbursts when he cannot control things.

His creativity in teaching is unbelievable, too. You see Knight do things that you can’t imagine lots of other coaches doing. Two moments stick out to me. The first is when Knight sits his candidates down, hands out copies of Rudyard Kipling’s poem "If," reads a few stanzas, and tells the team to study it for a discussion that they’re going to have the next day. Not exactly a tradition basketball drill, but a great lesson in the making, nonetheless (Of course, in my mind it also didn’t hurt that "If" is perhaps the only poem in the history of mankind that I enjoy.). The next moment that stands out is when Knight is going over basic concepts with his players, and he has them standing at halfcourt with notepads, taking notes. Again, I can’t imagine that this is something that tons of division one coaches (or coaches at any level, for that matter) do. How often is it, after all, that you see a guy in mesh shorts and a practice jersey taking notes on a basketball court? But you can’t help but think that on some level this helps to drive home the learning process to the players, even if they never look at those notes again. Of course, you also see Knight in more traditional coaching moments, like when he’s showing players how to "protect your balls" when setting screens. So he can pull of the basics, in addition to the above-and-beyond devices that he’s able to imply. You might not like him, but if you can’t see the brilliance that exists within Knight, then you’re just refusing to open your eyes.

So needless to say, I’ve already set my DVR box to record the entire season of Knight School. Not only is it a show that I think will be a precursor to most future sports reality shows, it is a look at one of the most interesting personalities in all of sports. As with any reality TV show, it’s probably not be a completely honest look at the people involved, but it’s as close as I’m ever going to get to sitting in on a Bobby Knight practice, so I’ll take it. Here’s waiting for the next installment on Sunday night.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A Plea For Help

I’m taking another random day off today, since instead of my usual hoops-related activities, I went out with some friends for a rare evening that didn’t involve us watching basketball (though we did, of course, talk a lot about basketball). I probably should have gone to the UWM vs. Detroit game, but what can I say–I’m slipping in my old age. I did at least catch the Milwaukee King-Milwaukee Vincent post-game show, but that’s hardly worthy of comment.

Of course, wouldn’t you know that on a day where I’m offering nothing to the ten or so of you who read this thing every day, I’ve got to ask for reader assistance. Here’s the deal–because the Marquette-Notre Dame game is on ESPNU, which is delivered to roughly 14 households nationwide (which contrary to popular belief, actually makes me happy that cable companies aren’t allowing themselves to be further bullied by ESPN), none of my Marquette-friendly friends and I have access to the game in our homes. Thus, I’m looking for suggestions of Milwaukee area bars that have access (likely by way of satellite dish) to ESPNU. Comment below or drop me an email if you know of one. Free pitcher of beer (or plate of nachos if you’re underage or a staunch supporter of the temperance movement) on me to the first person who comes up with a suggestion that my friends and I use, assuming that you end up at the bar for the game, as well.

And yes, I realize that by watching this game I’m only making ESPNU stronger and undermining the cable companies' noble efforts to fend off the mighty ESPN’s extortion efforts. I guess what it comes down to is that at my core, I’m pretty much just a weak-willed person. Such is life, I guess.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Indiana Day

Before I begin today, a quick correction with regard to one of my points from yesterday. As several friends and readers have informed me, Milwaukee King has not been atop the AP rankings for the entire year, contrary to what I asserted yesterday. In fact, when I checked on this I learned that King is currently in third place in the AP poll (edit--there's a new poll released today, and they're now second), and has been there for quite some time. My only excuse is that I get most of my high school news from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which has had King in the #1 spot in its rankings for most (if not all) of the year. Because I’m lazy, and the Journal Sentinel gives a flashier layout to its own rankings, I tend to look more closely at it. Nonetheless, apologies to Milwaukee Vincent and Oshkosh West, the two teams currently ranked ahead of King by the AP. My point, however, remains the same–King’s about as deserving as any team can be of a #1 seed, yet they’re stuck at #2.

On to my real point for today, though–it’s time to take a break from my normal Wisconsin focus and turn my attention to the school that everyone’s talking about these days–Indiana. I don’t know any more than any of the other millions of fools who are currently weighing in on this topic, but I might as well throw some thoughts out there (hey, I missed the first half of West Virgina-Syracuse last night–what else do you want me to talk about?). First and foremost, I’ve been meaning to thank Mike Davis for resigning and preemptively granting my wish from a week ago that he be fired from his job at Indiana. Sure, his resignation wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but either way, I’m done hearing excuses about why Davis can’t win, and Indiana gets a fresh start.

(Side note–I heard a snippet from Dick Vitale in a radio interview last week where he noted that during Indiana’s Final Four appearance a few years back, Davis was putting his name out to find other head coaching jobs, but no one was all that interested in talking to him. It was maybe the most fascinating thing that I’ve heard during all the talk of Mike Davis’s resignation from Indiana, yet I’ve heard nothing said about these comments after Vitale made them. Am I the only one who heard this sound bite? Am I the only one who thinks it’s interesting? Was I just hallucinating that I went out to lunch on Thursday and heard Vitale on the Dan Patrick show while I drove to buy a burrito? I haven’t been this confused since I was 16 years old and couldn’t figure out if The White Shadow was a real show, or it was just something that my mind had made up when I was three years old.)

In any event, names are flying around for who could fill the Indiana vacancy (several of them with Wisconsin ties). Lots of people are out there advocating why various coaches would be a good fit in Bloomington. Today, however, I’d like to be Mr. Negative and point out most of these guys don’t make a lot of sense. Let the record show that I anticipate Indiana hiring either Steve Alford, or someone who’s name comes completely out of left field. Let the record also show that I think the latter option would be a better choice. Here are those names, and why they won’t work at Indiana:

Rick Majerus: I love Majerus as a coach almost as much as I love him as a broadcaster and personality. And I feel a kinship with him, as another fat kid who grew up on the west side of Milwaukee loving basketball. When Wisconsin hired Bo Ryan a few years back, Ryan was my first choice, but I wouldn’t exactly have been complaining if Majerus had ended up with the job instead. Of course, with health and age issues, Majerus isn’t anywhere close to being a long-term solution. Here’s thinking that it would be best for all parties involved if Majerus keeps his sweet gig at ESPN and keeps entertaining us all.

Keith Smart: Okay, he’s a program guy, and his shot to propel Indiana to its 1987 championship was awesome. But most of Smart’s playing and coaching career has taken place in the CBA. I don’t want to be a snob here, but is Indiana really going to turn over the reigns to a guy who’s best known for minor league exploits? I think not.

Bruce Pearl: Frankly, if Bruce Pearl would bring his style of play to Indiana, I would do two things. First I would wet my pants in excitement. Then (after I cleaned myself up, of course), I would drive to Bloomington and enroll in grad school so that I could get a piece of the action that would ensue as Pearl brings his running style in to shake up the Big Ten, and generally continues to anger Illinois fans for something that happened 20 years ago. Unfortunately, timing is everything in the coaching world (case in point–I fully believe that Rick Majerus is the coach of Wisconsin today if not for the job opening at an awkward time for him), and I just don’t think that Bruce Pearl bails on his first big-time job after only one season. No one looks good if they make a move that quickly.

Dan Dakich: Another "Indiana family" guy. Once a hot prospect, he’s not looking so great at Bowling Green, and aside from once wearing the Indiana uniform as a player, there’s nothing that distinguishes him or makes him worthy of this job right now.

Mark Few: Because he’s at Gonzaga, his name is always going to come up for openings. But let me ask you this–isn’t Gonzaga a pretty sweet gig these days? It seems like they’ve become the place to play basketball in the state of Washington, even more so than the University of Washington. They’ve got an easy conference that logistically, it would be tough for them to move out of. And they’re on ESPN almost as much as Duke (though the Bulldogs are only available to those who are willing to give up a little sleep, due to their usual late-night time slot). If I’m Mark Few, I’m not looking to move. Especially not to Indiana, which offers about 800% more pressure than Gonzaga. Ask Dan Monson how he’s enjoying that move from the Pacific Northwest.

Bob Knight: Yeah, keep dreaming.

Steve Alford: Like I said, I think there’s a fairly good chance that Indiana hires Alford. It’s a nice story about the local boy coming home and all that jazz, but it makes no logical sense to me. Alford’s hot this year, but to me he’s still the guy who couldn’t win with Reggie Evans and Luke Recker, and who’s had wildly inconsistent teams during his tenure at Iowa. Here’s the hilarity of this idea in my mind, though–if I could have my pick of any of the current coaches in the Big Ten, probably the last two guys on my list are Davis and Alford. Even if I’m being generous, I still think they’re both in the bottom four coaches in the league. So is Alford really any sort of an upgrade? Not in my mind.

Randy Wittman: Here we go with the "Indiana family" again. As Big Ten Wonk astutely pointed out a few days back, the obsession with getting a coach from a pool of people who have connections to one’s own program is highly overrated. Particularly when it’s a guy like Wittman, who may be a nice guy, but only has NBA coaching experience. Aside from Larry Brown (admittedly, I’m thinking only of head coaches, which Wittman isn’t), I can’t immediately think of any coach who’s been successful at both the pro and college levels. The duties, and the games are just too different. So hiring an NBA guy doesn’t make sense.

Thad Matta: While I understand that Matta is no stranger to jumping ship on a team, why does this move make any sense for him? He’s already winning at Ohio State, and he’s already got the nation’s top freshman coming to play for him. Things are pretty good, and they’re only going to get better. Who’s left to win over in Columbus? Why subject yourself to new scrutiny in Indiana and risk losing out on coaching Greg Oden?

Tom Crean: Marquette’s head coach seems to get brought up when just about any job opens up. And I used to think that he’d be gone the first time that a good Big Ten job offered itself to him, given his Michigan State roots. Now I see no reason why he’d want to go anywhere. He’s in the Big East, he’s not competing with football (okay, so he wouldn’t be at Indiana, either), he’s making a boatload of money, and he’s got a team that has the potential to make some deep, deep tournament runs in the coming seasons. I’ve also heard that he has a tremendous amount of freedom to run the program at Marquette however he likes. Giving this all up for a program whose best attribute at this point is a name just seems illogical to me.

So, as you can see, it’s a tough spot for Indiana. Usually you can find one perfect candidate, but all of the above frontrunners either don’t seem to me like they would have interest in Indiana right now, or would probably be foolish hires for Indiana. Here’s hoping that Indiana does pull out a good name from somewhere, though, because even though Wisconsin played the Hoosiers during ESPN rivalry week (which to my surprise, must mean that Wisconsin and Indiana are bitter rivals), a good Indiana is good for basketball.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Quick Notes

Here’s some quick random notes on various things that I don’t want to wait until Friday to comment on:

1) After catching just a small portion of Knight School, the ESPN reality show about Bobby Knight conducting a walk-on tryout at Texas Tech, I’m pretty sure that this is the greatest television program in history. I’ll save deeper comments for later, since there’s bound to be a lot to comment on.

2) UWM lost to Missouri State in the Bracket Buster this weekend. Two things stuck out to me while sitting at the game. First, UWM really needs Adrian Tigert back. Second, the guy in front of me who was wearing headphones to listen to the broadcast of the game and berating the refs in the final minutes confirmed something I was already pretty sure that I knew: People who listen to broadcasts of games that they are attending are tremendous dorks. (Apologies to anyone reading this who might be offended, but well, how can you not already be aware of this?)

3) High school tournament seeding meetings took place this weekend, and as usual, there are some weird things to note. Most notably, Tosa East got the #1 seed over Milwaukee King in the upper regional of Sectional #8. I’m still scratching my head at how this is possible, as King has been the #1 ranked team in the state by the AP for, if I’m not mistaken, the entire season. If the #1 team in the state can’t get a #1 seed in its own regional, what must one do to merit the #1 seed?

The only possible reasoning for this seeding decision would have to be that though neither team has lost to a Wisconsin opponent, King has three losses to out of state foes, as compared to Tosa East’s one loss. That reasoning doesn’t hold much water with me, though, given that Tosa East’s one loss came in Milwaukee against the only out-of-state opponent that they played all year. King’s losses came on the road against nationally ranked opponents that comprised a good portion of their schedule. And the Generals picked up some huge out of state wins, too.

At the end of the day, I think the make-up of the regional will dictate that the #1 seed isn’t actually a huge advantage over the #2, but I still think King deserved the #1. I may be a Tosa East homer, but even I can see that there’s just something that isn’t quite right about this.

4) Five minutes for Marquette’s Ryan Amoroso against Pitt, following a DNP against Georgetown. I’m sort of conflicted about this development. On one hand, Amoroso, one of Marquette’s more talented frontcourt players can’t seem to get off the bench. Given his current pattern of minutes (he’s not totally relegated to the bench, but is spending most of his time there) and Marquette’s recent history of transfers, the possibility of an Amoroso transfer has to be sitting in the back of your mind. On the other hand, for the past couple of games Tom Crean has finally gone with a consistent rotation of just two big men (Ousmane Barro and Chris Grimm), and judging by the results, it seems to be working splendidly. When Marquette’s knocking off two top-25 teams, how can I knock the rotation (particularly when much of the success is due to giving out consistent minutes to big men, something I’ve been advocating all year long)?

5) I heard that a 5'9" guy won the NBA slam dunk contest, but obviously, I didn’t watch this ridiculous spectacle. But upon hearing this, my first thought was that perhaps that could be Dominic James in a few years.

6) Big congrats to UW-Whitewater for becoming the outright champs of the WIAC, the conference that encompasses all of Wisconsin’s state schools with division three teams. With a Big Ten-like grouping of teams at the top of the conference this year, it’s sort of surprising that one team could win an outright championship, so this is an accomplishment that the Warhawks can be happy about.

My City Conference Night

As I noted last week, I’ve got a myriad of thoughts following my attendance of Tuesday night’s Milwaukee King vs. Milwaukee Juneau game. I had figured that it would be a pretty standard game update at first, but as it happened, my first evening of taking in a City Conference game coincided with a brawl outside of another City Conference game at Milwaukee Vincent. As I’ve been collected my thoughts on the evening, I’ve got three things that I want to comment about. First, I’ve got some comments on security at City Conference games. Second, I’ve got a few notes on the stark contrasts between the high school games that I attended on Monday and Tuesday night of last week. Finally, I suppose since I actually saw top-ranked Milwaukee King, I should say a few words about them. So don’t worry–things will get lighter as I progress. And by tomorrow I’ll be back to making fun of mascots. But for today, let’s begin:

Security Notes
If I was running Milwaukee Public Schools right now, I’d be really frustrated at having another occurrence of violence outside of a high school basketball game. I’d be frustrated at the foolishness of the people involved in these incidents, I’d be frustrated that lots of people now view City Conference games as unsafe events, and most of all, I’d be frustrated at the fact that a pretty good security system that’s in place can’t seem to stop the problems.

Indeed, I think Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) has actually done a pretty admirable job of trying to control security problems at games. Earlier in the season when MPS decided to up their security and set up new policies for game attendance (including ending ticket sales at the door of games, limiting ticket sales to 75% of capacity and banning cell phones, electronic devices and beverages from being carried into games), I actually thought that the measures were overkill. On some level, I still fail to understand how banning cell phones from high school gyms makes everyone safer (I’ve always felt that cell phones have gotten a bad rap due to the stigma attached to them during the days when only wealthy business tycoons, Zack Morris, and drug dealers carried cell phones. Aren’t we past this point?). But that’s not the point. I commend MPS for trying something to tighten security, even if the dividends from the changes might not be huge. As was noted in articles about the security changes, the alternative is closing games to the public. And I don’t think anyone who likes basketball wants to see that.

Aside from the new policies referenced above, though, what is security like at City Conference games? Well, I don’t get to lots of City Conference games, but I’ve been to a handful in my day, and I can tell you that going to a game at Milwaukee Vincent is a bit different than going to a game at, say, Cedarburg. There are two big security differences that I see between the city and suburban high school basketball fan experience. First, and most obvious, is the entrance to the games. At your average suburban game, you walk up to a table or booth and hand over your $3 before going into the game. At a City Conference game, you buy your ticket, and are then greeted at the security station by two workers who direct you through a metal detector, and perhaps use the metal detecting wand on you if you set off the main detector. As I have noted in the past, the metal detectors at City Conference games are legendary in their sensitivity. My favorite tale from a few years back is the time that I set off the metal detector at Milwaukee Vincent and eventually figured out that a stray gum wrapper in my coat pocket was what was setting the thing off. Indeed, airport security has nothing on the City Conference.

The second difference between the city and suburban experiences has to do with the crowd-control staffing involved. At the typical suburban game, you’ve got a couple of administrators or other school employees wandering around in their daily attire watching over things. Your average suburban staffer is dressed no differently than the average fan, and they’re tough to pick out. At the City Conference games that I’ve been to, staff is denoted very clearly with shirts that label them as such. They’re easy to pick out. And though I know that this isn’t the case at every game, a fair number of the few City Conference games that I’ve seen have had some really huge men walking around in those security shirts. They’re not the kind of guys that you’d want to mess with (and I mean that in a good way).

Between metal detectors that can root out paper clips, and hulking security guards who have a clear presence, I have to be pretty honest–I’ve never felt anything but safe at the City Conference games that I have been to. Undoubtedly, some of this is me being selective what games I attend, but it’s not all attributable to that. After all, I’ve attended more games at Milwaukee Vincent than any other City Conference school, and Vincent’s been home to some of the more severe incidents over the past couple of years. While I’m rapidly being proved wrong, Vincent has never felt like an unsafe place to me.

Of course, a good number of these incidents seem to be taking place just outside of games. This makes sense to me, because as I allude to above, in my limited experiences the security once you’re inside the building for a City Conference gym is very solid. Even if security is good, though, it can’t be everywhere. My prediction for how things will work going forward? I expect Milwaukee Public Schools to look into seeing what they can do to tighten security outside of high school basketball venues. And I hope that they come up with a worthwhile plan, because I fully believe that if there’s one more major incident, then it will be time to look more seriously at more drastic measures, such as holding games during the day on weekends or closing games to the public. No one deserves that, and MPS doesn’t deserve the backlash that would occur over such an action. Like I said, the conference is dealing with a difficult situation to resolve, and at least in my eyes, is being fairly proactive in its attempts to resolve the problem in a reasonable manner. Let’s just hope that there is a reasonable way to resolve the problem.

Contrast Notes

What a difference a night makes. On Tuesday night I had my first opportunity to take a look at Milwaukee King, the top ranked high school basketball team in the state, as they took on Milwaukee Juneau at Juneau. The game itself was interesting enough to watch. Between King’s entire team, and Juneau’s Curtis Mitchell, last night was one of the better collections of talent that I’ve seen on one floor in some time. But what was slightly more interesting to me was the experience of the game, which was remarkably different than my trip to Milwaukee Pius on Monday night.

You see, while part of the reason that I went to last night’s game was that I really wanted to see Milwaukee King, part of my attendance was due to the fact that Milwaukee Juneau, much like Milwaukee Pius, is really close to my apartment. In fact, both schools are probably no more than a mile from one another. In terms of atmosphere, though, they’re light years apart. Pius is a private Catholic school which just built a new state-of-the art fieldhouse. Juneau is an older Milwaukee Public School that looks unpleasing to the eye, and is set to close at the end of the year as MPS looks to streamline its budget. Remarkably, despite their short distance apart, they're about the most different places to watch a game that I can think of. Contrast the following elements of my game experience:

Ticket Purchase
Pius: Buy tickets from what appeared to be Pius teachers or parents sitting at folding tables at the door as I arrive at the game.
Juneau: In light of new Milwaukee Schools security policy that doesn’t allow ticket sales at games, call school to find out how to buy tickets. Drive to the school before going to work, check in at the security desk, and go to the window where tickets are being sold throughout the day.

Walk between the two ticket-selling tables and saunter into the gym.
Juneau: Remove keys from my pocket and walk through metal detector.

The game is played in a gorgeous fieldhouse in only its second year of use. The fieldhouse includes an indoor track, a climbing wall, and numerous conference championship banners.
Juneau: The game is played in a gym that is sunken below the seating. A run-down, six-foot concrete wall surrounds the court, and leaves little room for error if one is running out of bounds. The basketball court is marked with lines for a myriad of other games, making the actual basketball lines blend in with the rest of the floor.

Well-designed plastic bleachers allow for ample leg room, and a good view from just about anywhere in the house.
Juneau: Pillars in the gym block just about every view. Based on my prior trips to Juneau, I choose what I believe to be the best seat in the house. I still can’t see more than 75% of the court at any time, and at no time am I ever able to see the benches or scorer’s table.

So yes, it is still sort of astounding to me that perhaps the most posh high school basketball venue that I’ve been to in the area sits only one mile from the most run down, poorly laid out venue that I’ve been to. Yet for all of the differences, I’m not sure that there’s one place that I prefer over the other. Sure, Pius offers a more comfortable place to sit, but watching a game at Juneau as you try to peek over beams to see the floor gives you a feeling like you’re in on some sort of unique secret place to watch a game. And for all the differences, there's always a few things that are the same, from the concession stand that I always ignore, to the fans complaining about the refs. That’s what’s great about high school basketball–wherever you go on any given night, it’s not going to be exaclty the same experience, but odds are that it’s going to be a good one.

Powerhouse Team Notes
Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat–Milwaukee King’s the best team that I’ve seen all year. I’d talk about the team, but since the talent involved makes King sort of like an all-star team, it’s probably best to go player-by-player. Here’s the starting five from Tuesday night:

Leneal Harris: A UWM recruit. Impressed me more than anyone else during the only King game that I saw last year. He’s a solid, heady guard who just seems like one of those players that silently holds a team together. On just about any other team, he’d be the featured guy, but at King, he’s one of many talented bodies. Doesn’t blow you away with any one skill, but can do just about everything fairly well.

Jared Jenkins: The only junior in the starting line-up, I didn’t really keep much of an eye on Jenkins, since he’s not one of the big-name guys on the team, and this was my first look at the Generals. But he’s starting in front of some solid guys, so that’s all I need to know about his game.

Troy Cotton: A UW-Green Bay recruit. Need someone who can shoot the ball? Cotton’s your man. I wasn’t keeping track, but I would have to guess that he hit at least six three-pointers against Juneau, and was the most impressive player on the floor. That sounds all well and good, but then I checked the Saturday morning box scores, and it seems that Mr. Cotton dropped 12 three-pointers on Milwaukee Pulaski on Friday night. So I guess you could say that he’s peaking at the right time.

James Pruitt: Poor James Pruitt. He’s got some of the widest shoulders that I’ve ever seen, can battle in the lane with the best of them, and sadly, he’s never grown beyond 6'2". If this guy was 6'8", he might be the most heavily recruited member of King’s stellar senior class. Instead, Pruitt, a four year starter for King, will likely be a guy that I talk about for years as the best high school player I ever saw who didn’t go on to a big-name school. Genetics can be cruel sometimes.

Mitchell Carter: A South Carolina recruit. It’s always nice to have a seven foot center on your team. I only got the chance to see King play once last year, and came away unimpressed with Carter. This year, however, is a different story. His hands have improved, and he generally looks more comfortable on the floor. He’s still got plenty of things to improve, but whereas last year I thought South Carolina was nuts for recruiting him, now I think with a couple of years under Dave Odom, we could have a player on our hands.

King’s starting five is obviously ridiculously good. But their bench is even scarier, since in my opinion, their two sophomores may actually be their two best players (though I’m willing to concede that Troy Cotton’s 12 three-pointer performance might be proof to the contrary). Here’s three of their key guys:

Eric O’Neil: See that guy in warm-ups who looks more athletic than anyone on the team. Yeah, that’s O’Neil. No, he doesn’t start. Yes, that’s just because of who he’s behind.

Korie Lucious: Widely considered to be one of the best sophomores in the nation, Lucious didn’t start on the night that I saw King play. I’m not sure if this is the norm, and maybe it’s just deference to the seniors, but if you’ve got one of the best high school point guards in the country coming off the bench, your team is fairly good. Lucious’s frame looks much more mature than it did a year ago, and his shot looked improved to me, as well. He can already do things with the ball that boggle your mind.

Bryan Brown: King’s "other" super sophomore is listed at 6'6", but looked bigger than that to me. He was also the most talented and most skilled of King’s big men, in my estimation. Like Lucious, he’s start on any other team in the state. You’d never guess that he’s a sophomore just from looking at him, either.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Marquette vs. Georgetown: Braving the Over-Hyped Elements

Marquette played Georgetown downtown last night, and for the first time in what seems like months, I got to see them play. Big win over Georgetown last night. And it was a long night for me, since due to the local weather, some friends and I headed downtown early to get settled and have a few beverages before the game. It occurred to us that our pre-game festivities might have been a tad too early when we saw Steve Novak crossing the street and walking in the opposite direction of the Bradley Center while we were stopped at an intersection on the way down. But better early than late, I guess.

Here are today’s thoughts. Due to a late night, they’re not as comprehensive as I like, but I wanted to spit something out, after weeks of neglecting the Golden Eagles. So here you go:

1) During a pre-game conversation, one of my friends was noting that if Marquette could beat Georgetown, it would really help their chances of "getting in." This was a conversation that I figured before the season that I would be having, except I was pretty sure at the time that "getting in" would refer to the NIT, not the NCAA tourney. What a pleasant surprise this team has been.

2) As I noted, I haven’t been to a Marquette game in ages, so though it might be late, I have to note that I love the giant PTI-esque cardboard cutout heads that the student section holds up. If there’s some notable meaning behind them, I’d appreciate it if no one told me what that is, because the delightful randomness of seeing Chuck Norris’ head blown up on a piece of cardboard would be totally ruined for me.

3) Kudos to the Marquette promotions department for their Dwyane Wade t-shirt give-away which for the first time in the history of give-aways included a shirt that was neither blatantly ugly, or really cheaply made.

4) My laughing at idiots moment of the night came when I was sitting with my friend The Franchise in the corner of the upper deck of the Bradley Center. About a minute before the game two guys started walking up to their seats in the same section when one noted that he thought they should just sit in the empty row behind The Franchise and I. His friend noted that all of the seats had pom-pons on them, and were probably saved, overlooking the fact that Marquette had placed pom-pons on all of the seats that were expected to be filled. So no guys, there wasn’t someone saving 12 seats in the cheapest section of the building with pom-pons that they brought to the game. That’s just a completely illogical proposition.

5) The weather wasn’t as bad as most of the world made it out to be last night, but nonetheless, I was impressed at the large number of people that overcame the scary weather reports and made it to the game (and skipped the ESPNHD broadcast). Great crowd on a night when I wasn’t sure if that would be the case.

6) It seems that I say this every time I see Marquette play, but Dominic James is a freak of nature. I’m excited to play back my recording of the game just to hear what Rick Majerus has to say about him on his breakaway reverse dunk. Guys who are 5'10" shouldn’t be able to do that.

7) Ryan Amoroso failed to enter the game last night. I haven’t heard anything, but given his recent one-game illness-related absence, I would have to assume his lack of time was due to illness. As well as Ousmane Barro and (I’m not even kidding about this) Chris Grimm played, when Marquette had all of its big men healthy, it was not unusual to see five of them get minutes. Dropping down to two and completely benching a guy who put up 30+ points in a game earlier in the year seems totally illogical, even with Marquette’s bizarre big-man rotation, if not for some sort of health issue.

8) Not to take anything away from an impressive and pivotal win for Marquette, but as several people have noted to me post-game about Georgetown, "Those guys beat Duke?" Yeah, I’m confused as to how that happened as well.

There’s so much more to be said, but I’m going to leave it at that, since I have no time to do more. Assuming I’m not too worn down, tonight will be my fifth night in a row of attending games in person. Right now I’m thinking Whitefish Bay and Nicolet at Nicolet, but I’m kicking around a couple of other options, so I’ll have think it over a bit. Whatever happens, there will be basketball.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Lawrence vs. Carroll: Worth Every Penny

Lots of hoops action last night, with UWM losing in a disappointing overtime loss to UIC. No comments on that, since that’s pretty much all that I know about the game so far. And then there was the Wisconsin game, which I recorded and watched in a late night session. Big win for the Badgers over a team that I would have been happy just to play well against. I would like to point out that last night my theory that the Badgers’ hopes of winning hang on the performance of Ray Nixon was bolstered. Wisconsin struggled in the first half, but pulled out the win in the second half in part due to a stellar second half by Nixon. That Alando Tucker guy had a role in the win, too, but we’ve come to expect that from him. I still say Nixon’s the key.

But enough about the world of big-time hoops. Last night I headed out to Waukesha for what probably was the de facto Midwest Conference regular season championship game between division three powers Lawrence University and Carroll College. Lawrence has been getting all the publicity for being the only undefeated team left in the country, but Carroll still held the ability to move into a tie for first place with a win. To say that this game lived up to its billing would be an understatement, as Lawrence won the game on a buzzer-beating two-footer by a player I couldn’t even see because the crowd was so big. Game notes below:

1) I knew that this was going to be a big game, and unfortunately, due to getting cut off by trains twice, and a need to pick up some dry cleaning, I got to the game only 15 minutes prior to tip. Seeing immediately that the usual parking lot at Carroll wasn’t an option (unlike the three people in front of me who for some reason thought they would find an open spot in the overcrowded lot) I had to park a few blocks away. I had never seen the place parked up like this, so I knew it was going to be big.

2) The parking gave me some indication of what was to come inside, but couldn’t have possibly prepared me for a gym that had obviously switched over to "standing room only" some time ago. In addition to the folks in the stands, there was a ring around the court at least three people deep, and this was still 15 minutes before tip. Keep in mind, as I stated above, that UWM was playing downtown (in somewhat of a rivalry game with UIC, no less), and Wisconsin was playing a fairly pivotal home game that was also being televised. The fact that the Carroll gym was this full on a night with so many other basketball options just went to show that this was not your ordinary division three game. The large attendance also tells me that people in Wisconsin know where to find good basketball, and that makes me happy.

3) Apologies to any friends that actually made it out to Carroll who I didn’t find. I had left my cell phone in the my car by accident, and once I got in the building–well, there was just no finding other people amidst that crowd without some type of technology. Thus, the first half was fairly awkward for me, as I found myself standing alone in the crowd on the far side of the gym. Making it worse was that I spotted several people that probably knew me, but not well enough that we’d hang out. And there’s nothing worse to me than people thinking that I’m some sort of loser that constantly attends games on my own. Yeah, I’ve done a couple of loner games this year (notably, earlier this week), but 90% of the time, I’m there chatting with a friend. I may be a basketball nerd, but I do have social skills.

4) It needs to be asked–I know Carroll doesn’t charge for attendance, and I appreciate that (my costs this week for three live games have totaled of $7), but if you’re running the Carroll program, don’t you capitalize on the popularity of this game? I wouldn’t have been bitter if someone had charged me a minimal fee, and even at, say, $2 a head, Carroll would have raised a boatload of cash for the program. The fan in me loves the price, but the capitalist in me is disappointed in Carroll.

5) Did you say intensity? No, I’m not talking about Marquette’s dance team–I’m talking about this game. This was truly a game that never got out of hand. In fact, I’m not sure if there was more than about a six point gap between the teams all night (there probably was, but it just never seemed that way). It seemed that every time one team would do something big, the other team had an answer. In fact, one five minute stretch in the first half was some of the most entertaining basketball that I’ve watched all year. Both teams really brought everything that they had last night.

6) After the first half of awkward alone time, I was able to track down my friend Ryan (the Lawrence scorekeeper guy who provided most of the material in my best post ever) and ended up hanging with him for the second half. Apparently he had gotten to the game late, and was initially turned away because the gym was at capacity before getting in as someone left. The view from his spot in the gym wasn’t particularly good, but it was fun to be near the Lawrence fan base, since Ryan had already sort of conditioned me to be a Lawrence fan. And I didn’t look like a weird basketball loner anymore, either, which was nice.

7) Big compliments to Kyle MacGillis of Lawrence for crafting what my pal Ryan aptly described as a "European" look to himself, with long hair, a dirty-looking half beard, and a headband to top things off. As I mentioned, I think every college guy has an obligation to look sort of dirty and ridiculous in college through the use of hair and facial hair. You may never get to look like that again, so why not give it a chance? MacGillis, who was a remarkably clean-cut looking guy when I saw him play in high school several years ago, has transformed himself and taken this to an art form. So from a guy that grew outlandishly poofy hair, a ridiculous Abe Lincoln-esque beard, and some half-assed mutton chops in college, Kyle MacGillis, I salute you.

8) I think the last time that I saw Lawrence play was during their exhibition game at UWM. Nonetheless, I’ve seen stats from last year, and I’d have to guess that forward Andy Hurley is their most improved player. Only a sophomore, I’m expecting to hear Hurley’s name a lot more over the next few years.

9) Down the stretch, Carroll came very close to pulling away on Lawrence, with big shots from the perimeter from, of all people, forwards Paul Toshner and Jason Scheper. Scheper in particular took so much time when he hit his late three pointer that it was pretty obvious he wasn’t thinking much about shooting the ball when it originally came to him. But since he was open, he tossed the ball through. Making the long-range shots from Carroll’s big men even more bizarre is that Carroll’s backcourt of Nathan Drury and Trevor Stratton is one of the better combos you could ask for on a division three team. Everyone was stepping up last night, though.

10) From my limited encounters with Carroll College hoops in the past, I was unaware that they had a person who acted as the Pioneer mascot. I generally liked the costume (the head actually intimidated me at one point, and I wasn’t even a logical target of the Pioneer’s wrath), and always appreciate the concept of a live-action mascot (even one as low rent as, say, the one at UW-Whitewater), but was sort of disappointed in some aspects of the mascot’s performance. When you’re a mascot, and you repeatedly reach up under your mask to scratch your face, it sort of ruins the illusion. Let’s get working on that for next season, okay Mr. Pioneer?

11) So Lawrence had the final possession, and after a string of fruitless moments, finally tossed in a layup after inbounding the ball with just upwards of three seconds left. The clock had to be under one second when the shot was released. And I still have no idea who made the shot, since I couldn’t see over the massive crowd and take note of who put in the winning field goal. The Lawrence bench, and fan section went nuts. You couldn’t have scripted this one much better.

And so the Lawrence Vikings continued their unbeaten season. I’m still angry at myself at taking this long to see them. And though my appearances at division three games are fairly rare, last night’s game was one of the best atmospheres that I’ve been around in some time. There was a lot of hype around this game, and it lived up to every bit. Now let’s just hope that Lawrence can continue to live up to its hype and make a long tournament run this year. Without pesky Stevens Point standing in the Vikings way during regionals this year, who knows how far they could go...

(Oh yeah--that Milwaukee King update? I've got a lot more to sort out, so I'm just postponing it for one uber post this weekend. Usually when I talk about things like this in advance, I'm lying, but I'm really committed to commenting on the best team in Milwaukee, and the experience of City Conference games in this era of heightened security. So it will be taken care of.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Wait Until Tomorrow

The bad news is, I'm not updating today. The good news is, I'm doubling up tomorrow. You see, last night I saw my first Milwaukee City Conference game of the year, as Wisconsin's top-ranked team, Milwaukee King, played at Milwaukee Juneau. Given that my first City Conference game coincided with a huge brawl oustide another City Conference game at Vincent (the third in a series of violent incidents at City Conference), I'd like to take some time to consider what to discuss with regard to my limited experiences at City Conference games, rather than just give you some lame game update. That's not something that I could pump out after watching a recorded Michigan State-Iowa game, though. So tomorrow, you'll get those thoughts, as well as some notes on King (yes, they're the best team that I've seen this year) and of course, notes from tonight's division three showdown.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Pius vs. Waterford: What the Heck, I'll Check Out the Game

Last evening took me to Pius XI High School to watch Pius play host to Waterford. I had seen that Waterford had a pretty good record, but honestly, even if they hadn’t, I probably would have shown up anyway. With all due respect to Waterford, I was really just looking to get a good read on Pius, since they’re going to be an intriguing team after their mild upset to go to the state tournament last year. I had actually sort of meant to make Pius my pet team this year, due to the school’s proximity to my apartment and the comfortable set-up of the gym, but just never had time to go to the marquee games. So on a whim, I dropped in tonight and got my third look at the Popes. Game thoughts below:

1) Prior to the game I used the restrooms in the Pius fieldhouse, and overheard two guys inside talking about the Milwaukee Bucks game going on tonight. As it turns out, one of the guys was being taken to the Bucks game by his wife. I’m not sure which warmed my heart more–to know that one of these guys had a wife who was willing to treat him to a pseudo-basketball game on Valentine’s day, or hearing the conversation itself, which involved both of these guys trying to figure out who would be on the floor for Charlotte tonight as they took on the Bucks. It always makes me happy to find more basketball fans that couldn’t care less about the NBA. (For the record, Milwaukee’s actually playing Seattle, not Charlotte, tonight. Hence, the story is even better.)

2) One of the big reasons that I wanted to get a look at Pius was to get a look at how they played with the addition of senior guard Kevin Maciejewski, who had been out with an injury both of the previous times that I saw the Popes. I clearly had remembered his name from last season, but had just assumed he had graduated. But then after the first time that I saw the Popes play, I received an email from a Pius fan who noted that his absence had somewhat affected the team’s play. I couldn’t really gauge that tonight (for reasons that will become apparent in my next point), but he definitely was another talented player in the line up, which never hurts.

3) Pius star, and the top unsigned senior in the state, D’Angalo Jackson was dressed, but did not play last evening. I have no idea whether this was illness related, injury related, discipline related, or related to something that I can’t even think of. I was a bit disappointed, partly because I didn’t get to see the exciting Jackson in action, but more because I couldn’t get a total read on how Pius is playing these days. The Popes looked very solid, but you’d have to think they’d show an entirely different look if their best player was in the lineup.

4) Interesting call by the PA announcer after the opening tip, as he noted "Tip goes to Pius. Next possession will go to Waterford." Correct me if I’m wrong, but if Pius and Waterford are the only teams playing, is that second sentence even necessary? Doesn’t the next possession, by definition, go to Waterford? This is true whether we’re talking about the very next possession of the game, or the next time that the possession arrow comes into play. Thus, this is a totally superfluous comment.

5) On Pius’ second possession of the game, they had the ball for upwards of 30 seconds (I’d guess 45 or so if I had to). I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a possession quite like it. Once Pius got into its halfcourt offense, the ball touched the floor only two times during the entire possession. And it wasn’t as if they were attacking a zone–Waterford was matching up. Whatever Pius was doing, it was working, though, since they got a good shot off.

6) I see that I was not the only person checking out the Popes tonight, as I noticed during the second quarter that what appeared to be the entire Wauwatosa East team was seated in the section to my right. Barring something incredibly odd happening at regional seeding meetings, the Red Raiders should be slated to meet Pius in the second round of the high school tournament. So it only made sense that they’d check this one out on their night off. Actually, it’s very possible that the reason that I wanted to see this game was a subconscious desire to get a better read on that very match-up.

7) One of the more odd moments of the game, from my perspective, came after a charge call on Pius that happened in front of the Pius bench. Pius coach Joel Claassen protested a bit after the call, which wasn’t so odd. What was a bit odd was that one of the refs (it was a three man crew that did a pretty good job on the evening) started yelling "Good call! Good call!" as if he was congratulating his reffing partner (Actually, I wasn’t sure which of the refs made the call, because hey, who pays attention to the refs when there’s a game going on?). I assume that, as usual, I’m missing something in my observation of the situation, but from where I was sitting it seemed like the ref went out of his way to yell this right in front of the Pius bench and bother the coach. Whatever the guy was doing, it was an odd departure from an otherwise non-eventful night.

8) With Pius’ star player on the bench, other guys had to step up their games. The guy that impressed me most was Frank Nellen, who seemed like he was scoring or deflecting a pass every 30 seconds during the third quarter. Also of note was the play of Keith Queoff, who had an excellent rebounding night. I hadn’t been blown away by either of these guys in my previous viewings of Pius, but last night they really stepped up their games.

9) I was sort of shocked by how docile the crowd was at Pius last night. There was a decent-sized student section, and they were sitting near the court, but none of them really cheered. Adults really shouldn’t be out-cheering students at these things–even if it’s not a big-time game. Watching that crowd really made me miss the days at Pius when I could go to a game and see a student in the front row dressed as the pope and participating in an off-color cheer. I assume things get closer to that edge for big games, since there really is a lot to cheer about at Pius these days.

And with the end of the game, I met up with my friends Gus, Austin and The Franchise, largely to get an update on how the Villanova-UConn game went. That morphed into checking out the Kansas-Oklahoma State game, and making fun of Olympic figure skating on the next television over. All in all, I’d say it was a pretty solid night. And if all goes as planned, tonight could be another solid hoops night. I’ll elaborate tomorrow, if things work out.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Empty Weekend

In what has to be one of the most confusing things to happen this year, I didn't see an entire basketball game the entire weekend. Save for about five minutes apiece of the Gonzaga-Stanford game on Saturday, the Ohio State-Illinois game yesterday, and last evening's Miami-North Carolina game, I completely missed out on basketball. I blame it primarily on two things. First, I wrongly assumed that yesterday's Marquette-Rutgers game would be on television, and planned to make that my game of the weekend to enjoy. Of course, that assumption overlooked the fact that the Milwaukee School of Engineering seems to have a better television presence than Marquette since joining the Big East. Seriously, who do I have to pay in order to get a Marquette game on local TV? It's been weeks since I've seen these guys play, and I sort of miss the Golden Eagles.

The second issue was that of winter sports. My Saturday was spent watching the Wisconsin-Ohio State hockey game in Green Bay. It was a crowd of 40,000+, 25,000 of which were probably like me, and knew nothing more about hockey than that it's fun to watch guys skate fast and hit one another. Combine that with the time that one must spend during the winter Olympics waiting for a horrific luge accident to appear on television, and it just doesn't leave much time for basketball.

But the good news is that this week is full of big games just about everywhere, with the Lawrence University-Carroll College game this Wednesday still standing as the crown jewel. For fear of burnout, I've been neglecting trips out to games of late, but this week I'm turning the burners on. We're almost to March, and if there's a time to ramp up my game-watching, it's now.

Back tomorrow, after I've actually seen a game.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Friday Notes

I didn’t catch enough of any single game last night to focus on that, so as I often do on Friday mornings, here’s a couple of basketball-related thoughts floating around in my head:

1) Kevin Pittsnogle went 0-12 with 0 points and fouled out early against Pitt last night, leading to West Virginia’s first conference loss. Some might blame this loss on Pittsnogle, but I’m putting the blame squarely on his son, who was born less than a week ago. You can’t blame Kevin for using up all of his energy on caring for newborn Kwynsie Pittsnogle (perhaps the best name ever in the history of the world), since a child deserves that energy. Not being able to drop 25 on Pitt because you were up at 3am changing diapers? That's just responsible parenting, and good prioritization. (For more info on the Pittsnogle birth experience, check out Pat Forde’s column from last week, which includes this classic Kevin Pittsnogle quote on naming his son: "I thought of the name, she (Kevin’s wife) thought of the spelling.")

2) I think I may have come up with a frontrunner for basketball warm-up song of the year. Now I just need to find out the name of it and give it a few more listens. I miss the days when I was young and hip enough that I didn’t need to do research to find out what was playing in the gym during the prior evening.

3) All I want at the end of the year is for Mike Davis to be fired. Is that too much to ask? I think it’s been about three years since I first started hearing "Yeah, it’s been a rough year, but wait until the recruiting class that’s coming next year. The Hoosiers will be phenomenal!" I’ll grant you that the loss of Josh Smith to the NBA before he set foot on campus and this year’s injury to D.J. White were unexpected events, but Davis hasn’t exactly worked through them seemlessly, despite having a fair amount of other talented players. There’s always some excuse out there for him underperforming. Don’t get me wrong, the last thing that the Big Ten needs is another excellent coach to make things harder for the Badgers to win, but I’d at least like to find someone respectable for the Indiana job.

4) Last night I worked late and dropped in on my bowling team, even though I wasn’t on the schedule, since I’m a team player (and I like drinking beer at bowling alleys). As a result, I missed out on a UWM ass-kicking of Youngstown State, and more importantly, a high school rematch between the North Shore Conferences two top teams, Milwaukee Lutheran and Whitefish Bay. My friend who attended the latter game noted to me that Whitefish Bay was up by almost 20 at half, before Milwaukee Lutheran charged back in the second half to pull even, and eventually win on a last second shot. And he also mentioned that he spent a good portion of the game chatting with a division one (mid-major) assistant who was there doing some recruiting. See, these are the things that I miss out on when I decide not to go out and watch basketball.

5) I’ve gotten a handful of emails about J.J. Redick throwing up the shocker during the North Carolina-Duke game a few times. My take on the issue? I don’t think it was his intent to make that specific hand gesture. While I'm doubtful that there's any college-aged male out there who's not familiar with the shocker hand gesture, I thought Redick was just trying to come up with a new way to signal "3," and may have been oblivious to the possible mis-interpretation of his hand signal. The mis-reading of this gesture by fans might be similar to my confusion earlier this year over the Arizona State "pitchfork" hand signal’s resemblance to the shocker.

6) My friend Steve gave me, via email, perhaps the best articulated, and most coherent theory on Wisconsin’s recent on-court difficulties since losing Marcus Landry and Greg Stiemsma to academic problems, as well as DeAaron Williams to transfer. It’s not an earth shattering concept, but it makes sense, and it's explained by Steve really well, with specific attention paid to Bo Ryan’s coaching role. Here’s that thought:

I know the high regard you have for Bo, and for the great job he's done. I share your feelings. It has occurred to me that he had done a masterful job of taking this years' team and molding it into a good, competitive outfit. But at least in retrospect, it seems that the sensitive chemical balance of the parts was destroyed by the roster changes that happened recently. And re-defining and re-building a team in the middle of the year is tough...maybe even impossible. Especially when the talent that remains is so modest. Bo's decision to use Chappell as he did may have been masterful. Giving him minutes at the beginning of games and halves, and then bringing in the rest of the rotation to pick things up was, in my estimation, a very effective way of maximizing the talent available. Now, however, having to count on him for more minutes and much greater stat contributions has proven to be fruitless. Obviously, the impact upon every player is considerable. Chappell tale is just the most obvious. That early "chemical balance" was so key, yet so fragile, for this team.

7) If you live near Waukesha, Wisconsin and you aren’t planning on attending next Wednesday’s Lawrence University (20-0, 14-0 in conference, ranked #2 nationally by d3hoops.com) vs. Carroll College (18-2, 12-1 in conference, ranked #22 nationally by d3hoops.com) game, to be played at Carroll, well then, you’re just not a fan of basketball.

8) Continuing on the D-3 lovefest, credit to the always-spectacular Big Ten Wonk, who today diverges for a brief moment of today's update from his Big Ten focus, and directs readers to a note in the Minnealpolis Star-Tribune about Beloit player and Fort Atkiinson native Josh Hinz, who put up 50 points and hauled in 36 rebounds against (you guessed it) Grinnell College. Even if you're playing against the Grinnell style, those are still some silly numbers.

9) One of my Sheboygan-based buddies noted that I should put in a note about tomorrow evening’s Sheboygan North-Sheboygan South game at the historic Sheboygan Armory, which will be the last ever North-South contest played at the ancient facility. And he’s right. I’ve only been to one game there in my life, but had read about the experience for years beforehand. (There was a great Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Sunday feature on it a long time ago that I would link to if not for the fact that the article is so old that it predates the Journal Sentinel’s online archive.) In short, it was well worth the trip. The playing conditions aren’t posh, or even particularly safe for the players (yet somehow pro basketball was once played in the building). The seats are cramped, and made for smaller people from a different time. But there’s still nothing like a game that brings out the bulk of one of the best basketball communities in the state in an atmosphere that makes you feel like you’ve been transported back to a time just slightly more recent than the setting of Hoosiers. It sounds like both North and South will have gorgeous new fieldhouses next year, but even so, a small part of Wisconsin’s basketball soul will die when the final buzzer sounds on Saturday night.

That’s it for today’s random thoughts. It could be a light basketball weekend for me, due to a family commitment tonight keeping me from seeing high school games, and some non-basketball related Saturday plans. The DVR box will just have to work overtime, I guess.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Wisconsin vs. Indiana: Hanging On For Dear Life

Ah, a Wisconsin win. It’s nice to come out way on top of a game where a loss for either team meant a horrific downward spiral would continue. No niceties today, though, I’m just jumping into the points that I gleaned while watching this one from my living room:

1) It’s rivalry week on ESPN. We’ve seen some great rivalries in the past two days–Duke vs. North Carolina, Syracuse vs. UConn, and Tennessee vs. Kentucky. But Indiana vs. Wisconsin? Where did that come from? As a Wisconsin alum, I’ve never thought of Indiana as some sort of a fierce rival. In fact, and I could be wrong on this one, but wasn’t Wisconsin stuck in one of those ruts where they hadn’t won on the road at Indiana in something like 25 years? And if I’m to believe last night’s broadcast crew, Indiana hasn’t won at Wisconsin in eight years. That’s not exactly the hallmark of a rivalry to me. Not that I would know who to classify as Wisconsin’s Big Ten rival (maybe Michigan State, since there seems to be some blind hatred between the programs), but it’s definitely not Indiana. Nor, would I guess, does Indiana think of Wisconsin as a rival.

2) Speaking of rivalry week, one of the first things that I saw on the broadcast, as I got home late from work, was sideline reporter Erin Andrews stumbling over the words "Welcome to Wisconsin. It’s rivalry week," as she began a story of some sort. She attempted to joke about her inability to spit out the words afterwards by saying about the earlier phrase "Try saying that three times fast!" Well guess what–I did. And it wasn’t tough. You see, it’s not a tongue twister. Next time, Erin, don’t lie to me and tell me that you’re trying hard to enunciate a difficult phrase. I’m just going to forget about what happened if you keep going and don’t draw attention to your error.

3) Great reference during the game to Alando Tucker’s shoe collection, which can only mean that Brent Musberger is reading the blog of Wisconsin’s assistant director of athletic communications, Brian Lucas. Though somewhat sporadic in its updates, it’s always a good place to get lighthearted stories about the basketball team, so check it out if you’re not doing so already.

4) I’m still not sure where I stand on Kevin Gullikson filling in for Wisconsin, due to its depleted roster. On one hand, I love Gullikson’s confidence (yes, I’ve probably stated this about 800 times already), and willingness to shoot the ball when he has a good look. He’s not tentative like a walk-on, and if more players were willing to step in like Gullikson, I doubt that Wisconsin would have the scoring issues that it does. That said, Gullikson’s shooting is not good. I guess I’ll take the energy, but he’s still limited in a lot of ways. Which I suppose is the best you can ask for when dealing with a walk-on.

5) When talking about the Big Ten Tournament, Steve Lavin got creative with his pronunciation of "Conseco Fieldhouse" and referred to it in a manner that made it sound like he was saying "Canseco Fieldhouse." God help us if Jose Canseco ever has a sporting venue named after him.

6) I’ve got a new theory about how Wisconsin will perform in any game. I just came up with it last night, so it may or may not be valid. Here’s how it works: If Ray Nixon plays well, the Badgers will play well, and probably win. If Ray Nixon does not play well, the Badgers will lose. Last night Nixon had one of his games where he was making great decisions, playing energetic defense, and taking exactly what the defense was giving him when he was on the offensive end. That’s certainly not always the case, and when Nixon isn’t firing on all cylinders, his task of giving the team a boost must be picked up by someone less physically talented. That’s when the problems start. It’s a frightening theory, really, since Nixon isn’t known for his consistency, but I think that’s how things are going to work from this point forward. Of course, I’m too lazy to actually back this up with stats from the past few games, so I’m just going to wait to be proven wrong in the future.

7) Last night I officially got excited about the Joe Krabbenhoft era at Wisconsin when he drew a fourth foul on Marco Killingsworth with 14:30 to go in the game. It was an aggressive, heady play from an aggressive, heady player. I can’t wait to see this guy and Marcus Landry as seniors. It will be a special year. Actually, given Marquette’s freshman class, it could be a special year all around in Wisconsin.

8) Thank goodness that Marco Killingsworth managed to get himself into foul trouble, because his box-score line of 14 points and 8 rebounds in just 20 minutes is pretty scary. And seeing how Indiana plays without its star big man, I think any opposing team would be foolish not to take the ball right at Killingsworth early and often to try and get him out of the game quickly.

9) I fully expect Wisconsin fans to get too excited about this win. Right now my fellow Wisconsin fans are probably saying "But Chris, why do you have to be such a downer? Can’t you just enjoy a win?" No, I can’t–and here’s why. The fundamental problem that the Badgers have had to this point, which was hashed out nicely in the newspapers recently, is that Wisconsin can’t win if Alando Tucker or Kammron Taylor isn’t offensively carrying the team. Ray Nixon’s 13 points notwithstanding, Tucker had 29 points last night, and was in classic his classic "putting the team on his back" mode. Sure, Wisconsin’s defense last night was improved from what it was during the four game slide that it was on, but I don’t feel like much has changed about the offensive problems. I doubt this problem is even solvable, which is what makes it so maddening. I love watching Tucker score 30 points, but I’m aware that in the future there’s going to be some night where neither he nor Taylor scores more than 11 points apiece, and no one else will step up. That’s still hard to swallow.

10) And finally, the Bo Ryan halftime interview with Erin Andrews was classic. Brent Musberger rightly kept commenting on how entertaining Ryan’s answer to Andrews’ question about what he was saying to the refs at the end of the half. Ryan’s answer, that it may have looked like he was talking to the refs, but that he was really talking to his players was indeed, a hilariously blatant lie. But even better than that was Ryan’s initial silence and blank stare when confronted with Andrews’ question about the refs. You could almost see inside Ryan’s head as he thought "If I say something critical of the refs, the Big Ten will reprimand me. How do I respond to this question without getting myself into trouble." The lie afterward was just the icing on the cake.

And with the end of the Wisconsin game, I glanced from time to time at UConn-Syracuse before doing a few errands around the apartment. Not sure what tonight holds for me (I’ve got the week off from bowling, and can therefore use the night for basketball purposes), but there’s a good chance that I’ll be sitting at my computer watching UWM play.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Abbreviated Update

Last night I participated in a little tradition that I like to call "Take Your Mother to a High School Basketball Game Night." It's not a creative name, so you can guess what transpired. As I was walking to the doors of the gym with my mother, we had the following exchange:

Mom: You're sure you're not embarrassed to be going to a game with your mother?

Me: I'm a 27 year old guy who likes to attend high school basketball games for fun. Do you really think that the fact that I'm going to a game with my mother is going to make me look any more pathetic? I'm already pretty close to topping out.

Okay, really it wasn't quite as pathetic as it sounds, since my mother is a teacher at the feeder middle school for the local high school, and simply wanted to get a chance to see how her former students are doing. I just sort of facilitated that happening, since I probably would have been checking out a different high school game, anyway. And as I noted, mother in tow or no mother in tow, I'm pretty much not looking cool either way when I wander in to a high school gym to watch basketball.

So there, that's my defense. Unfortunately, the fact that I was attending the Sussex Hamilton-Wauwatosa East game, and Duke-North Carolina was on TV meant that I was going to need to watch both in their entirity. Since I needed time to catch up on the recording of Duke-Carolina, I was up pretty late, and didn't get a chance to do a real update. Thus, I'm going to just gloss over last night's games, and leave you with one thought on each game:

1) Last night was, I think, the first game this year where I saw Jerry Smith play, but not dunk the ball even once. He tried once, but in a rare and courageous move, Sussex Hamilton's Jim Liermann attempted to block Smith's dunk, and in my estimation (and likely in the estimation of both of the head coaches, based on the jovial conversation that they had in the aftermath) succeeded. The refs thought otherwise, and sent Smith to the line for two fouls shots. But either way, Liermann's effort on the play was phenomenal.

2) Okay, I'm a bit ticked off at ESPN. How do you plan to televise the North Carolina vs. Duke game, and not end up broadcasting it in high definition? It's the biggest rivalry in college basketball, and ranks right up there as one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports. I would have been only slightly less shocked than I was when I turned on Carolina-Duke in standard definition last night if I had flipped on the Super Bowl this past Sunday and found out that it wasn't being broadcast in HD. I mean come on--how many people out there were more excited to see Kentucky-Tennessee in HD than North Carolina-Duke? (Just to be clear, on any other night, Kentucky-Tennesse deserves HD treatment over just about any other game, but not when the best rivalry in the game is on.) And the worst part about this is that ESPN revealed during the game that they know how badly this game deserves special treatment, as they unveiled their plans for the next North Carolina-Duke meeting. These plans involved showing the game on all of their channels, each with a different angle, and using their website to pass along even more content during the game. I'm pretty certain that you won't even be able to think of the name ESPN without them somehow delivering coverage of the game to you. So, one of the games gets ESPN to sell out the entire network, but last night they can't even get the HD equipment down to Chapel Hill. This makes absolutely no sense to me.

Back tomorrow with my thoughts on Wisconsin vs. Indiana, which will be on ESPN tonight, but not in HD. Sure, I'm personally bitter about that one, but I still commend ESPN for making the right call and getting their HD equipment out to the UConn-Syracuse game where it rightfully belongs, instead of covering two teams living deathly in fear of another loss. And for the record, since this year's college basketball happenings around the country defy all logic, and Wisconsin should have no answer for Marco Killingsworth inside, I'm officially predicting Wisconsin by 8 points. Let's hope that works out.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Notes From the Tour of Indiana

Well, the 2006 Tour of Indiana, as I noted, was a shocking success. Sure, my teams failed to come through for me (in resounding fashion), but this trip wasn’t all about winning and losing. Rather, it was about my travel partner Peter and I hitting the road, seeing some basketball in the nation’s most history-rich basketball state, and generally having a good time. That was accomplished. Thoughts from the entire trip (including the occasional notes about the games themselves) are below, starting with the Butler voyage:

1) Rather than stop for breakfast, Peter and I decided to power through our morning drive to Butler and grab lunch before the game. Seemed like a great idea at the time, but when we got to the Butler campus, we found absolutely nothing in terms of restaurants. It wasn’t for lack of trying, either, since we arrived just under two hours prior to tipoff, and drove in every possible direction around the campus. Not that Butler was ever on my radar when I was applying to colleges, but I’m sure glad that I didn’t go to school there. It was a nice enough campus and all, but I’m just happy that I went to a school that afforded me the opportunity to go off campus and buy a sandwich if I so desired. Call me crazy.

2) I was already excited to take in a game at Hinkle Fieldhouse, possibly the most historic venue in all of college basketball, and the walk up to the arena only made me feel better about the choice to attend the game. The staff was particularly friendly to me, as I walked toward the fieldhouse in my UWM sweatshirt. First, a parking attendant stopped me to asked about the team and how many other UWM fans I thought would show up, since I was the first that he had seen. The gentleman taking our tickets commented that he was impressed that we had made the trip from Milwaukee. It was the type of midwestern friendliness that I’d always thought was just a hollow stereotype. But the people at this classic gym were everything that you’d hope for out of a basketball museum in Indiana. Friendly, knowledgeable, and generally pleasant–I can’t say enough about the people of Butler.

3) Due to the lack of lunch spots around the Butler campus, Peter and I broke down and had lunch at the fieldhouse. Remember how I said that I was planning on having an unhealthy day? Well, I ordered an individual-sized pizza and a bottle of water. Peter walked up to the counter and ordered three hot dogs and one tray of nachos. This is where I thank Peter for ensuring early on that there would be one man who’s diet would be even more disgusting than mine that day.

4) I always thought going to a UWM game was a great deal. That’s before I went to a Butler game, though. I’ve never experienced more bang for my buck. General admission tickets were a mere $10 apiece. Not bad, but I can pull that off at a UWM game. Where Butler truly scored, though, was with the things that came free. I was overjoyed enough that I was able to park for free on a nearby street, but was taken aback even further upon seeing a program stand that openly advertised that programs were free. As if that wasn’t enough, after I ordered my pizza from the concession stand, the woman behind the counter asked me if I wanted a free bag of popcorn as well. It was as if someone knew that I was coming, knew that I was cheap, and still wanted to make me happy. This can’t possibly happen every game (perhaps this was an Alumni Day promotion?), but if it does, I’m moving near the Butler campus. (Well, maybe not–I’d still never be able to go out to eat.)

5) Oh yeah, there was a game going on. What was my first impression? Joah Tucker was far stronger than anyone that Butler could throw at him, and was generally having his way inside. I would have liked to have seen the Panthers go to him a bit more often, but I can’t complain too much, since Butler started to catch on and surround him with defenders in the second half.

6) As the Butler pep band fired up a rendition of Mr. Roboto, I was convinced that I was hearing the top pep band moment of the day. Of course, as usual, I was wrong, since Purdue would later top that selection. You’re just going to have to sit in suspense until I get to that portion of the day.

7) One thing did trouble me about Butler, and that was the mascot situation. Butler is known as the Bulldogs. Nothing wrong with that–it’s actually a pretty decent, standard issue mascot. The problem lies not with the name, but rather with the fact that they have both a guy in a big bulldog suit, and an actual bulldog which they use as mascots. Don’t you sort of have to pick one or the other? I feel like it’s sort of overkill to have a guy and a dog both trying to fill the same role for the team. And in this instance, I can easily say that I’d have kept the guy in the suit and gotten rid of the actual dog. Butler’s actual dog, aside from being pet by the players being introduced, did little more than stand around on a leash. If you’re not going to match the energy of Matilda, the bulldog made famous by the WWF’s British Bulldogs in the late-1980s, then just leave the dog at home and leave the hijinks to the guy in the suit, okay?

8) The evening prior to the game, I was commenting to an acquaintance by the name of Nate (a guy who’s probably the most rabid UWM fan that I know) that I was of the opinion that Boo Davis hadn’t even bothered to learn UWM’s new swing offense. Nate corrected me, though, and noted that Davis had been doing more than just jacking up three-point shots of late, and had actually been working for position in the post in the last few games. Sure enough, Davis was working hard on the blocks on Saturday. I never really minded him much when just seemed like a shooter without a conscience (as he was one of those rare guys that was pretty good at that role), but it can’t possibly be a bad thing that he’s adding to his skill set.

9) UWM stayed in this game largely because of its offensive rebounding. The best thing about the offensive rebounding, though, was it wasn’t the big guys that were pulling down the boards, it was the guards. Boo Davis, Chris Hill and Joah Tucker (okay he’s a forward, but he’s a small forward) all pulled down multiple offensive boards. It was somewhat mind-boggling, but still nice to see.

10) It was Alumni Day at Butler, so halftime saw the introduction of the Butler sesquicentennial mens and women’s teams, featuring the best players in the history of Butler. Again, it was as if Butler had known that I was coming and planned to do lots of special things just for me. Because let’s face it, it’s probably not every day that one goes to Hinkle Fieldhouse and has the opportunity to see Bobby Plump, the real-life version of Jimmy Chitwood, introduced at halftime. Very cool.

11) Near the top of the list of worst superfluous sideshow competitions at a game this year would have to be Butler’s free throw contest between two of its sesquicentennial team members. To begin with, a free throw contest is boring, but adding to the worthlessness of the contest was the fact that nothing was on the line, and the PA announcer never even noted who the winner was at the end of the contest. Why even do the contest if you’re not declaring a winner?

12) My general reactions to watching a game at Hinkle? I can’t believe this place was built in the 1920s. Granted there was plenty of seating to choose from when Peter and I arrived early to the game, but I honestly don’t think there could have been a bad seat in the house. Of course, the acoustics were absolutely terrible, but the sightlines appeared phenomenal to me.

13) I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t a way to mash the entire Butler student section together, rather than dividing them into three separate sections. On the other hand, I was nothing but impressed by the Butler students themselves. Particularly pleasing was their act of harshly rubbing balloons handed out to them, effectively turning what is usually a visual distraction during foul shots into one of the most obnoxious noise-makers known to man.

14) I can’t recall the last time I saw a game where UWM didn’t hit a single three point shot. I hope I never see one of those again.

15) As the end of the second half wore down, things looked pretty good for UWM. During their second-to-last possession of the game the Panthers, attempting to run down the clock, happened to break Butler’s full court press, and Jason McCoy tossed down a seemingly back-breaking dunk with about 10 seconds left. My travel companion Peter grabbed his coat, looked at me, and noted that the game was over and it was about time to go. Of course, as he was telling me this, I was intently watching Butler immediately inbound the ball, and telling him that Butler still had plenty of time to hit a three-point shot. And then A.J. Graves canned an extremely tough three-pointer with a hand in his face to send the game to overtime. So yeah, thanks for jinxing things Peter.

16) On the bright side, even though UWM lost, the freebie motif did continue as overtime brought me my favorite free thing–five minutes of free basketball. How do you beat that?

With the end of the game, and very little left to do near the Butler campus, Peter and I hopped in my car and drove to leg number two of the voyage, Purdue University. (Side note–during the drive, I called my buddy, The Franchise, for an update on the score of the Marquette-Villanova game. He told me that Marquette was up in the second half and about to pull the upset before Villanova took over at the end, leading to a hard-to-swallow loss for the Golden Eagles. With loss #2 for the state on the day, I could see that this was going nowhere good). Again, we managed to arrive at our destination a tad early, and had to look for some options for killing time. Better to be early than late, I guess. Here’s how the Purdue-Wisconsin experience went.

1) Upon arriving in West Lafayette, Peter and I decided to try to find a tavern to kill some time before the game. We ended up at Brothers, a chain tavern which I’ve been to versions of in Milwaukee, Madison, and Iowa City. I’m not a particular fan of the chain, but it was familiar, and available, so we stopped in. It was surprisingly empty for the early evening on a Saturday, and the only other people that we encountered were fellow Wisconsin fans. It was strangely entertaining to observe how every group of Wisconsin fans had at least one person note to the bartender that a) there would be far more people at the bar during pre-game in Madison, and b) Wisconsin people could completely out-drink Purdue people. I’m not denying the fact that both of these assertions are likely true, but one can’t deny that the people in my state are proud of some pretty weird things.

2) At the game itself I was seated next to a particularly pleasant Purdue alum, just slightly older than me, who had brought his nephew. Our first conversation centered around Wisconsin’s recent academic problems. A lot of fans would have taken the opportunity to lay into an opponent’s shortcomings during such a conversation. But this guy noted to me that he couldn’t believe that any school couldn’t keep its players eligible, adding "I lived in the same dorm as Glenn Robinson when he was in school, and I can tell you that there was no way that guy was passing his classes without lots and lots of help." The night continued in much the same manner, with each of us tossing out self-deprecating comments. It actually got to the point that I said to him "Man, we’re being way too nice to one another. Once of us is going to have to do some taunting or something to make this respectable." But neither of us did. I love friendly fans.

3) One other great aspect of sitting next to this guy–he noted that a buddy of his from high school had gone to school in Madison and constantly told him stories about it. He immediately told me that some of his friend’s favorite things to talk about were LaBamba’s burritos, Pat McCurdy, and "some place where you drink beer out of giant boots." Upon hearing this, I briefly wondered if I was actually the friend that he was referring to. Then I remembered that as much as I love all of those things, I actually went to high school in Wisconsin.

4) I’m not complaining, since it worked out wonderfully for me, but I feel I need to note that I ordered my tickets for the Purdue-Wisconsin game on Thursday afternoon. Our seats were in the upper deck, but definitely not at the very top of the arena, and were almost exactly at halfcourt. I know Purdue’s down this year, but I still find it ridiculous that an outsider like me can get such phenomenal seats for a Saturday night game only two days beforehand.

5) Let’s face it, Wisconsin was painful to watch this game. Shots wouldn’t fall, defensive position was lacking, and the Badgers actually made Matt Kiefer look like he was an all-Big Ten caliber player. Positives were hard to come by in this game, but I’m going to try. And the closest I can come to finding a positive is Joe Krabbenhoft. Yes, Krabbenhoft had a rough night defensively, and probably played out of position trying to act as a bigger forward, but the thing that got me excited was that he hit a couple of shots. Sure, it wasn’t a big thing in this game, but the one thing that has been egregiously lacking from Krabbnehoft’s game has been confidence shooting the ball. Maybe he can build on this. I’m sure hoping so.

6) There’s no way to get around this–over the last couple of games I’ve seen, my opinion of Brian Butch’s play had dropped a bit. I’ve been a big Butch fan for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always been honest with myself about his shortcomings (inability to finish inside, slow-footedness), but I’ve consistently hung my hat on his ability to knock down mid-range jumpers and the occasional three-pointer. Now he’s not even doing that. I want to keep defending the guy, but it’s getting harder and harder. Let’s just hope his injury from Saturday night’s game isn’t serious so that he can start making me like him again.

7) Yes, earlier in the day I thought that the Butler band’s rendition of Mr. Roboto was about as inspired a selection as a band could possibly make. Then Purdue’s band goes out and plays a pep band rendition of the theme from Shaft. I think that’s pretty much the absolute pinnacle in terms of pep band music selection. And yes, I can dig it, thank you very much.

8) Great timeout moment in the second half with Purdue’s mascot, Purdue Pete, and a handful of students. I have no idea where this concept originated, but it was awesome. Purdue Pete came out with an oversized snowboard-type thing. Then the students laid down on the court, side-by-side. Then the mascot laid the board down on top of the first few students and stood on the board. Finally, the students began passing the board, with Purdue Pete on it, down the line, as if Purdue Pete was surfing. The band played Wipeout in the background. It’s a pretty simple concept, but it was ridiculously cool to see a mascot surf 3/4 of the court length over students passing him down. And the balance that the mascot had–that had to take talent. I kept worrying that there would be some sort of horrific fall, but it never came. And I’m thankful for that, since after seeing a freak injury to the Purdue mascot at a Wisconsin football game a few years back (they took his head off and everything), I’m hoping never to see an injured mascot ever again.

And so eventually the Badgers’ awful game ended. I’d make more actual game points, but it was a long, painful game for me, and reasonable basketball points were not exactly flowing through my mind (I probably shouldn’t have yelled at Brian Butch for being soft when he went down with an injury again. Hey, I was emotional.). It had been a long day. Having endured a quick sucker punch to the gut at Butler, and the dull, throbbing pain that was the entire Wisconsin game, I left the arena with Peter to walk back to the car and noted, "Well, we lost both games, but at least we have a cold, 10 minute walk back to the car before our 4-hour drive home." I made it sound worse than it was, though. My teams had lost, but I had seen two new arenas, taken in one of the greatest slices of basketball history around, and generally had a pleasant road trip. Here’s hoping to do it again next year–except with better results.

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