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.)


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