Friday, March 31, 2006

Novak Wins (No Surprise)

No time to write last night, so I’m doing this on the fly today. Three quick thoughts:

1) Steve Novak won the men’s college three-point competition last night, which came as no surprise to me. I didn’t see it (had to record it, as usual), but I saw Novak hit 27 (perhaps it was 26, but no less than that) out of 30 shots doing a similar competition at Marquette’s Midnight Madness celebration in the fall. When you’re shooting stationary shots off of a rack, I’ll take Novak over any other guy on the planet (including that Redick fellow who was conspicuously absent, due to an award he was accepting elsewhere). Of course, as his loss in the inter-gender three-point battle proved, there are women out there able to beat him (which is also no shock, considering that the women always perform really, really well in the three-point competition).

2) South Carolina officially wrapped up their 2nd straight NIT championship. Which begs the question–do you think that the South Carolina bookstore is selling t-shirts with phrases like "Back 2 Back" that you’d see if someone one consecutive NCAA or conference championships? Because I hope that such garments are being produced. The last t-shirt I can remember that could match that mix of celebrating excellence and mediocrity in one package would have to be my college roommates t-shirt celebrating the Wisconsin football team’s 1996 Copper Bowl championship.

3) Thanks to the people who took the time to email me and leave comments regarding the off-the-wall dunk from a few years ago. From the responses that I have received, I have discerned two things. One, the toss may just have been off the back wall, with no floor involved. Two, I am not completely insane.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

I Didn't Realize the McDonald's Game Was On Last Night

I can’t believe that I wasn’t aware of it prior to flipping on the TV when I got home last night, but as it turns out, last evening was the McDonald’s All-American game, where the nation gets a look at the top high school stars in the country. Unfortunately, it’s being televised at 9pm, so I’m not going to have a chance to do reflections on the game, and the Powerade Jam Fest which is slated to run afterwards (not to worry, my trust DVR has me covered). Maybe sometime this weekend. But for today, I have some general thoughts on the McDonald’s game throughout the years.

I know it’s fashionable these days to say that you hate the McDonald’s All-American game, and other similar high school all-star games, because they in no way resemble well-played basketball. And while it’s true that this isn’t the type of basketball-esque event that I’d like to watch all year long, I still enjoy it because I see it for what it is: a chance to see next year’s top college freshmen showing off and having a bit of fun. Anyone who thinks that an all-star game featuring a bunch of kids who are thrown together for a week should be some epic battle where each team fights desperately to pull out a win is simply missing the point of the game. All-star games are just a fun diversion.

I will readily concede that you can’t actually tell all that much about players from a game like this (which is probably why lots of people hate them). This is for two reasons, really. First, as noted above, the players aren’t really playing a typical competitive game, rather, they’re having a good time playing a meaningless exhibition game, and hoping to show off some of their skills. Second, it’s just one game. Anybody can look great (or horrid) in one game. With that in mind, here’s some of the most ridiculous actual thoughts that I had while watching previous McDonald’s games. I’d explain why most of them are hilarious now, but if you’re reading this, you probably already know.

"Wow, if Jelani McCoy doesn’t become the best player in college basketball in the next two year, something’s wrong."

"Man, I wish mom and dad would excuse me from Easter dinner so that I could go back out an watch more of that Shawn Bradley guy. I hate ham."
(back when I was 12, and the game was shown on a Sunday afternoon, instead of in prime-time)

"I think Rudy Gay’s the best guy on the floor right now. He’s just so competitive."

"You know, I had heard about Neil Fingleton’s size, and he is huge, but the incredible thing about him is that he’s so well-proportioned, and doesn’t move like some lumbering giant."

"Wow, Luke "The Rim" Recker might just be the dumbest playful nickname of all time. Those announcers should be shot."
(actually, I was pretty much on target with this thought)

and my all time favorite:

"Yeah, Chris Weber is pretty good, but who’s this Cherokee Parks guy? I think I’d rather have him. Duke and Michigan are going to have some epic battles with these guys up front." (Actually, I think this thought came from the Capital Classic. If memory serves me correctly, Parks was much more his usual self in the McDonald’s game.)

Needless to say, I’m never going to be getting a job as a talent scout.

Of course, the real action doesn’t take place in the All-American game, it takes place in the dunk contest. I actually can’t wait to cue this one up (it’s place on ESPN is way too late), because the high school dunk contest is one of the best kept secrets out there. In my mind, it’s better than the NBA dunk contest. The players may not be quite as athletic as the pros, but the high school guys have two things going for them that the pros don’t: 1) they’re young and creative, and 2) they care about winning the dunk-off.

Much like the world of pop music, if you want to see what’s going on in the world of dunking, it’s probably best to look at the teenagers. Some of the best dunks that I’ve ever seen have come in the high school dunk competition. In fact, there’s one that I remember seeing that was so ridiculous, I legitimately question in my mind whether I really saw it, or if an old memory of mine somehow became skewed (I have quite a few far-fetched memories like this, like that time I was working the scorer’s table at a freshman girls basketball game back in high school and saw a player loft a soft 2-footer that came to rest in a physics-defying spot on the front of the rim, or watching a ridiculous TV show when I was 3-years old where a former pro basketball player who was white took a high school coaching job at a predominantly black inner city high school that featured a player simply known as "Salami." Again, both memories seem completely implausible, but my mind still vividly recalls the looks of confusion on everyone’s face during the aforementioned shot, and after years of thinking that I was crazy, I finally have DVD proof that the White Shadow actually existed. So I’m sticking to my stories.).

Sorry about that long parenthetical–anyway, the seemingly implausible dunk that I saw occurred probably 6-8 years ago, and involved a guy who threw the ball so that it bounced off the ground, then off the wall behind the basket (this was back when high school gyms typically hosted the event) before he caught it and slammed it home. Best dunk I’ve ever seen. If you’ve ever seen this dunk, I’d appreciate it if you could confirm for me that it happened. Until then, I’m just going to assume that my mind is playing tricks on me, as I assumed for about 12 years when I didn’t know for sure if The White Shadow ever existed.

That’s it for today. Maybe a quick thought or two for tomorrow, but I’m tied up with some things tonight. And next week the season comes to a close, which is probably good, given that my ramblings get more incoherent by the day.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

It's Tough To Dominate the NIT

As is obvious, I neglected to update yesterday. I’m easing into the offseason, and just didn’t have much to say. Without a game to watch every night, what the heck am I going to talk about? After next week, I’m only going to be updating when I damn well feel like it, anyway, so anyone who’s looking to me for a daily fix might as well get used to it (though I’m probably going to be doing a non-basketball related side-project during the offseason, but more on that another time). For today, though, here’s three random thoughts rolling around my head:

1) I’ve resisted for a few days discussing the selection of Andy Polka as Mr. Basketball in Wisconsin, since my first reaction was, well, not exactly well-reasoned (I found out about the selection when I got home from a Saturday night out and checked the Journal Sentinel website before going to bed. Not typically the time when rational thought is at its most abundant.). Obviously, I’ve seen Jerry Smith so many times, and I’m such a fan that I thought he should have won the award. I’m pretty sure that I believe simply because he’s the best player, but I recognize that I might not be the most objective person in the world on this one.

All that said, I’ve heard a lot of defenses of why Polka was a worthy award winner. One of them actually rings true with me, although the most commonly cited line of reasoning doesn’t really convince me. The most common thing that people talk about when discussing why Polka won the award is the fact that he had a dominant state tournament and his undefeated team won the state title. This is true. I only had the pleasure of seeing three Oshkosh West games this year, and in 10 out of the 12 quarters of play that I watched, Polka was near flawless. I don’t find this a compelling argument for him being Mr. Basketball, though. He was the best player on the championship team, and accordingly won the MVP of the tournament to go along with his team’s state title. That was the appropriate award for his efforts. Mr. Basketball’s about the entire season, though, not some three-game stretch.

That said, I noted that I did find one compelling argument for Polka’s reign as Mr. Basketball. It’s sort of related to the reason that I find flawed, but it’s a bit different argument, so bear with me, since it’s tough to see the distinction that I make. Part of me views Polka as a mini version of Oshkosh West. Because guys like me think bigger city teams (and by extension, players) are inherently better, a team like Oshkosh West can go the entire season undefeated and still show up at the tournament with people thinking that it’s about the third or fourth best team in the field. Then they go out and win the title, and wrap up an undefeated season. Being undefeated, one could extrapolate that they’ve been doing this all along, but guys like me just dismissed it because we couldn’t see or read about Oshkosh West every night. By the same token, one could also extrapolate that Polka, who was dominant in just about every minute that he played at state, must have been dominant all year playing up in Oshkosh, but didn’t get the same attention as Trevon Hughes or Jerry Smith, as Oshkosh isn’t exactly a huge media center.
So in that respect, maybe it’s appropriate that Polka won the award at state, by showing us a glimpse of what was likely a dominant season for him. I still think Smith’s the better pick, but after I reasoned it out, Polka’s not as ridiculous a selection as I thought at 2am on Sunday morning.

2) The NIT is officially weird this year. Michigan and South Carolina, the 2004 and 2005 NIT champs, respectively, both advanced to the final game, meaning either Michigan will have two out of three NIT titles over the past three years, or South Carolina will take home back-to-back NIT championships. Think about how improbable that is. It occurred to me upon seeing this matchup that back-to-back NIT titles is a lot more difficult to pull off than back-to-back NCAA titles. Sure, the NCAA games are going to be against tougher opponents, but if you’re a truly excellent team, playing two seasons of national championship basketball isn’t that outlandish an idea. Consecutive NIT championships, though? First, you have to make sure that your team is just mediocre enough to not make the NCAA tournament. Make sure, of course, that you don’t peak too soon and win the conference tournament. Then, once your mediocrity is solidified, you have to play a series of games against other mediocre opponents where, unlike lots of NCAA tournament games, there is no clear favorite. You’re flipping a coin every night. And for South Carolina and Michigan, that coin keeps coming up heads. Awesome feat if either school can pull it off, though I’m pretty sure that neither Tommy Amaker nor Dave Odom would rather not have their teams known as perennial NIT contenders.

3) Someone out there is listening to me (sort of). In my last update I complained about how I never see those old Final Four retrospectives on ESPN anymore. And while I still haven’t seen any of the old, charming, Bob Ley-hosted looks at Final Fours from the 1970's and early 1980's, last night CSTV took a break from showing women’s college lacrosse and ran a bunch of Jim Nantz-narrated looks back at early 1990s Final Fours. At an hour long, they didn’t have the same over-condensed charm of the earlier incarnations, but they were still pretty entertaining. Seeing Mark Randall’s mullet and Mark Macon’s high-top fade was almost as good at seeing Bill Walton get above the rim and calmly drop the ball through the hoop due to the no-dunk rule. So CSTV, I salute you for last night’s programming, even if I fully expect to arrive home and find the NAIA Division 5 Coed Horseshoe championships on tonight’s schedule.

That’s it for today. We’ll see if anything moves me to update tomorrow. (Yeah, I may be limping into the end of the season, but at least I’m very aware that I’m struggling to finish out the year.)

Monday, March 27, 2006

Weekend Roundup

Another year, another ridiculously entertaining NCAA tournament. The last two years have been so good that next season is almost sure to be a let-down. Nonetheless, I'm pretty darn happy now, as is most of the basketball world. Thoughts from the weekend below:

1) Prior to this weekend, the only reference to George Mason that I heard this year was a radio interview with their coach a day or two after NCAA tournament bids went out. I remember him discussing his suspension of Tony Skinn for the first game of the tournament, and noting that Skinn was probably the happiest person on the team when George Mason got its bid, since he was worried about his absence giving the selection committee a reason to leave George Mason out. Given where we’re at now, I’d say the committee made a pretty good choice.

2) Even though I know next to nothing about George Mason, I do recognize the inherent coolness of the Patriots (yes, I had to look up their mascot–thank you Blue Ribbon) being in the Final Four. On a peripherally cool note now, though, I would have to assume that ESPN mid-major writer and friend of this blog, Kyle Whelliston, will be going to the Final Four on his company’s dime (and if he's not, then the Worldwide Leader should be ashamed of itself). Not too shabby for a guy who spends most of the year shuttling between tiny, cramped gyms watching lesser known teams play basketball. Let's just hope that Kyle isn't seduced by big-time basketball like Mid-Majority mascot Bally was this past summer.

3) Best thing about George Mason’s run to the Final Four? Look at who they beat. They’ve won four games so far, and three of those games came against Michigan State, North Carolina and Connecticut, three of college basketball’s most consistently powerful programs. Short of knocking off Duke as well, there’s not too many other big-name programs that the Patriots could have toppled. It’s neat that George Mason is at the Final Four, but it’s even neater when you consider that they had to knock off three teams that consider the Final Four almost an every-other-year trip.

4) Leaving George Mason aside, could anyone have predicted the other teams in the Final Four? LSU has been pretty good this year, but I don’t know that anyone expected them to be at this point (I sure didn’t, as I declared before the tournament that the winner of Duke vs. Texas would take the championship. LSU screwed that prediction up in about 400 ways.). I’ve seen UCLA a couple of times, and never came away all that impressed. Florida was sort of a hot team going into the tournament, so I suppose that they were pick-able, but I still can’t say that I know lots of people who thought they’d be there. In fact, if you’d asked me to pick the outcomes of each of the four occurred this past Saturday and Sunday, I would have been 0-4. That doesn’t upset me, though–I’m kind of intrigued to see the bizarro Final Four.

5) I’m not going to lie to you–if it was a non-descript Saturday afternoon during the regular season and I saw that ESPN had scheduled UCLA vs. LSU and Florida vs. George Mason as its games for the afternoon, I’d probably put down the remote, go outside, and build a snowman or something. But I’m excited to see these games now. See what March does to a guy?

6) There were few things that I stated as an absolute truth while picking tournament games, but the one thing I just flat out knew, and told to anyone that would listen, is that Connecticut would drop a game before the Final Four. I’ve never disagreed with people who love their talent, but I’ve seldom seen a non-NBA team with so much talent and so little heart. Frankly, the Huskies made me angry whenever I watched them play. The loss to George Mason was a long time coming, as none of their tournament games (not even the opening 1 vs. 16 matchup) were easy. The feeling of euphoria that I had when U-Conn’s last second three-pointer clanked off the rim at the buzzer was indescribable. Finally, the Huskies weren’t able to turn it on for 5 minutes and escape defeat.

7) Speaking of U-Conn pulling out games that they shouldn’t have won, Washington basically had them beat on Friday night, and I’m bitter that they couldn’t close out the game in the last minute. Last night I found myself debating what the least clutch moment of the weekend was: Mike Jensen fouling out and giving U-Conn a critical three-point play in the closing seconds of the Washington-Connecticut game, or Dustin losing his notebook on Knight School. In my mind, both events sealed the losses for Washington and Dustin, respectively. (Sorry if I spoiled the Knight School ending for anyone. Yeah, Tyler won.)

8) Hey, one gripe about tourney season. What ever happened to those half-hour summations of old Final Fours that ESPN would show during tourney season. I used to love those growing up. I’d head home from school, flip on the TV, and there was Bob Ley sending us to old footage of guys like Mike Gminski and Bill Walton trying to win championships (set to excellent narration, I might add). I haven’t seen one of these shows this year. I know a few years ago they did a few updated versions, replacing the Ley intros with Chris Fowler intros, but now they’re nowhere to be seen. Am I just missing these shows because I’m not getting home around 4pm like I was when I was in school, or did they inexplicably shelve the tapes in favor of some stupid-ass show like Speed Week?

So that's my weekend. Here's hoping that I think of something to write about as the week goes on...

Friday, March 24, 2006

Finally, More NCAA Tournament

Last night I headed down to my friendly neighborhood tavern with a couple of friends and took in what I could of last evening’s games. As usual, bar game-watching isn’t as conducive to my game observation skills as watching a game at home in my chair is (the difference being attributable to lack of TV sound, and lots of basketball banter with other patrons), but I tried to pick up what I could. Tonight’s observations may be skewed towards the later games, since I actually did head home after the first half of the Gonzaga-UCLA game. Seems that as my friends and I get older, staying out at a bar and sucking down Pabst until 11:30pm doesn’t seem quite as appealing. Who knew this feeling would ever come? Game thoughts below:

1) I feel completely derelict about the fact that I can’t name a single player from either Memphis or Bradley (which probably means that Memphis will win the national championship). Billy Packer would be proud. How the local CBS affiliate decided to make this their primary game over Duke-LSU will always be a mystery to me.

2) I don’t count myself among them, but was there ever a better night to be a Duke hater? If I had to compare end-of-game meltdowns last night, I’d say that Duke’s was even more painful to watch than Gonzaga’s. After all, Gonzaga just lost the game. Duke completely fell apart in every facet of the game and embarrassed themselves during the final minute. How often do you see a free-throw shooter get a rebound over four opposing players like Glen Davis did last night? I can guarantee two things after seeing the final minute of that game: Duke will never have a stretch like that again, and the audio of Coach K in the locker room after the game was something that was not fit for children.

4) Good to see Adam Morrison wearing the big floppy t-shirt last night. The logical explanation for this fashion move, I assume, was that he was keeping warm and protecting himself after his bout with the flu earlier this week. However, I’d like to continue thinking to myself that he was trying his best to make himself more likable by attempting to look more like West Virginia’s Mike Gansey.

5) Speaking of Gansey, whenever I look at the guy, I see two potential things in his future: a career as an accountant, and a starring role as Billy Hoyle in a remake of White Men Can’t Jump.

6) Call of the night came from my dad around 7pm. I looked down at the phone, saw who was calling, and I figured a work emergency had come up (which is odd, because that’s never actually happened at 7pm) and I would have to stop watching hoops. Instead, he was calling to let me know that Time Warner had continued broadcasting multiple games this weekend, and that I could get both of the games on my TV. Even if I had already decided to go out to watch the game, I appreciated the call. In my mind, that’s one of the things that a good father should do–keep his son informed of all possible game-watching options.

7) I know that in the past I’ve praised players for going with outlandish hair and facial hair choices because college is the time in one’s life when they have a license to look stupid for awhile, and everyone should explore that option. But with regard to David Pendergraft and Sean Mallon, I take that back. Those two guys have some of the worst looking facial hair that I’ve ever seen. It’s not even funny in a college-guy-trying-to-look-stupid kind of way, since I think both guys are serious about the look.

8) Big thanks to the production crew at CBS for a phenomenal close up shot of Kevin Pittsnogle as he was on the bench trying to stop a nose bleed in the late minutes of the game so that he could re-enter. It’s moments like these that I feel reassured that I made the right choice in upgrading to the high definition TV last summer.

9) The finish to the Texas-West Virginia game might be the best finish to a game that I’ve ever seen. First, Kevin Pittsnogle, with a hand in his face, drains a three-pointer to tie the game with 5-seconds left. I stand up in my living room, adorned in my replica Pittsnogle jersey, screaming at the TV "You’ve just been Pittsnogled!" (Yeah, it wasn’t one of my cooler moments, standing there alone in a fake basketball jersey, yelling at my TV...) Then Kenton Paulino gets the ball on the other end and, with a hand in his face, drains a three-pointer as time ran out, giving the win to Texas. That was perhaps the only time that the final 13 seconds of a basketball game that was that close took no longer than 13 seconds to complete. Great move by Texas not taking a timeout and letting West Virginia set its defense (and similarly great move by Jay Bilas, the best commentator in the business, for pointing this out).

10) I know one of the most painful things in life is hearing other people talk about their NCAA brackets, but here’s my moment to do just that. Texas’ last-second win, and Duke’s end-of-game collapse just makes me feel worse about my bracket, since I wanted to pick Texas to win the entire tourney, but didn’t have the guts to pick them getting past Duke. Had I played my hunches, rather than using logic, I would be in great shape right now. And maybe that feeling of safety would have only lasted another day (LSU certainly isn’t a push-over), but I’d feel a lot better for that one day. I think that’s the last of my weird hunches that I suppressed, though, so I’m done belly-aching about it. (And the crowd releases a sigh of relief...)

11) There’s something very freeing to losing my third Final Four pick. Now that I know that there’s basically no plausible way for me to win either pool that I’m in, I’m free to start rooting for teams that I like, rather than teams that will propel me to a win. That said, I still want Washington to take down UConn tonight.

12) A lot of people are going to take shots at Adam Morrison for crying after UCLA took the lead with 1.9 seconds to go in the game. And if you saw the game, Morrison clearly had the face of a guy that was crying. You can’t fake that look. I’m not going to rag on him, though, because I was sort of happy to see him crying. It’s not that I wanted Morrison to be upset. Rather, it was just kind of neat to see that he cares that much. Here’s a guy who’s got a bad mustache, looks like a serial killer, talks trash to opposing players, and takes dives at the drop of a hat to try and draw fouls on his opponents. Yet for all that’s seemingly wrong about Morrison, at the end of the game, he’s also a guy that’s so emotionally invested in his team that he’s fighting unsuccessfully to hold back tears after the opponent hits a shot to pull ahead. Until tonight, I know I found it easy to dismiss Morrison as a nothing more than a cocky gunner. Now I know that he’s a cocky gunner that cares as much about the game as anyone else on the floor. It’s a fine distinction, but it’s a distinction that means a lot in my book.

13) Here's the thing that blows me away most about the Gonzaga-UCLA game. All year, Gonzaga has been caught in close games, and found ways to pull out a win in the end. Then, at the most important time all season, they can't seem to do one of the things that they do best--close out a game. Such is the NCAA tournament.

14) Well, Memphis vs. UCLA playing for a trip to the Final Four. I can honestly say that I didn’t see that one coming, which is sort of odd, given that they were the one and two seeds in their region.

More basketball tonight, and over the rest of the weekend. I certainly don’t expect anything quite as dazzling as last evening, with two ridiculously entertaining finishes, but it should be good.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Quick Thoughts For The Day

It was laundry night in the West household, so thoughts for the day are brief and random, since I spent the bulk of the evening ensuring that I would have underwear to wear for the next two days. Here’s today’s quick thoughts:

1) The NCAA tournament performance of each of the teams from Wisconsin that were involved summed up the seasons of each team more accurately than I could have scripted. Consider the following:

Wisconsin: Started off slow, hit adversity, and fell apart down the stretch. The Arizona game was just all of the patch-work finally coming completely undone. Next year should provide a clean slate for everyone, and a lot more players to work with.

Marquette: The game against Alabama was a great measuring stick of where Marquette is at. That is to say that they’re fairly good, and they play with plenty of emotion, but they’re not quite at that next level yet. Big man or no big man (and right now, it’s looking like the latter), this is a team that’s going to be very, very good over the next two years. You could just see it coming in this game.

UWM: The Panthers were the only of the Wisconsin schools to win a game in the state tournament, which is appropriate, since over the last few games of the season, they were playing the best basketball of any of the state’s teams. Their second round exit was similarly appropriate, since while they were good, they weren’t quite as good as last year.

2) Of all of the possible times to lose my Wichita State t-shirt, why did it need to happen this weekend? When will I ever be able to again legitimately wear a t-shirt supporting the Shockers? Here’s hoping a scouring of my apartment will allow me to show my Wichita State love tomorrow night. Though to be fair, even if I find the shirt, I won't be showing as much love as this guy (see the third fan down).

3) In tonight’s battle of Adam Morrison’s bad mustache and Jordan Farmar’s pretty-boy goatee, I’m taking Morrison. Always take the dirty guy.

4) Speaking of pretty boy vs. dirty guy matchups, I’ll be interested to see Texas vs. West Virginia tonight, if for no other reason than I’m not sure if Brad Buckman will even be willing to touch Kevin Pittsnogle.

5) Looks like I may not get around to my comments from the high school tournament last weekend, so I’ll just reiterate from last year perhaps my favorite aspect of the tournament. While the basketball teams that make it to state all have to win a series of challenging games, the dance teams from all of the schools just sort of tag along with the team, regardless of skill level. So you’re never quite sure until they hit the floor whether you’re going to see an award-winning dance team or a rhythm-less group of teenage girls that just want to head back to their seats.

6) I finally got to see the ending to this week’s edition of Knight School (Side note–thanks to emailers that let me know what happened. Normally I’d berate people for giving away an ending that I hadn’t seen, but given that the only thing I really missed was Knight announcing the cuts, the info was appreciated.). Good ending, though it was sad to see the two little guys go. Although, Arvin went out on a typically annoying note when the final shot of him was leaving the locker room without a shirt on. I’m not expecting top-level decorum from college athlete-hopefuls, but is it too much to ask that you actually get dressed before leaving the practice center?

7) I’m not sure how the Indiana situation is shaking out, but I do know one thing–the Hoosiers not hiring Steve Alford is the best move that they could have made. Even if they eventually crash and burn with Randy Wittman, at least that failure is a little tougher to see coming. Meanwhile, Alford should jump at that Missouri job if it’s offered to him. Steve Alford can’t follow a lot of people effectively, but Quin Snyder is a guy that I think he can perform better than.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

I've Got Nothing

I took the evening off from basketball last night, in an attempt to ease myself back into my normal, out-of-season life. Instead of watching an NIT game, or even reflecting on some basketball thoughts from the past weekend, I took in my first entire episode of Deal or No Deal, which I had recorded out of curiousity. I can't be the only person in America rooting against the contestants, can I? Seeing contestants' potential prize totals go down gave me a feeling of euphoria similar to that which I would feel when Marquette would beat Bob Huggins-era Cincinatti teams. I guess this probably makes me a bad person, but watching fools lose really makes me happy.

Back tomorrow with a few more relevant basketball thoughts. After all, we're only a few weeks from getting to that point in time where the only basketball that I'll be able to watch will come in the form of DVDs of The White Shadow. And while I do love the wisdom of coach Kenny Reeves, real basketball is still just slightly superior.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Entry That Came Too Late: Why I Want Rob Jeter at Iowa State

So I just heard that Rob Jeter announced that he won’t be heading to Iowa State, making the entry that I wrote last night on the topic of this situation sort of moot now. But what the heck, you’re not getting anything else from me today, so I’ll post it anyway. Now that Jeter’s sticking around, I’m even more embarrassed by some of my thoughts, but in the interest of brutal honesty, here they are:

So, Rob Jeter’s looking more and more likely to get an offer to be the head coach at Iowa State. So I guess it’s time for me to come clean on what I think of Rob Jeter, and what I’d like to see happen with regard to all of this. I’ll give some warning in advance, because this may very well be the single most offensive post that I’ve ever written in regards to UWM. But bear with me, because I’m just being honest.

I think Rob Jeter is an excellent coach. There are some people out there that would tell you that he stepped into an easy situation with tons of talent returning from a Sweet Sixteen team. I might agree with this assessment if UWM returned two or three key guys this year, but the Panthers had seven seniors, and Jeter was looking to completely revamp the way that they played ball. If that’s not a set-up for a mutiny, I don’t know what is. But somewhere along the line, Jeter got these guys to buy into what he was selling (Although to be fair, some of Joah Tucker’s comments this year lead me to believe that he never totally got on board with the new system, but he bought in enough to make UWM a winner again.). Jeter was smart enough to recognize his challenges, and made shrewd moves to win his team over, most notably re-implementing the full court press that was such an effective weapon the prior year. And in one of the more surprising moves that I saw all year, Jeter took Jason McCoy, a forward who’s primary role prior to this year was guarding inbounds passes, and made him a solid starter.

By the end of the year, Jeter’s UWM squad was playing solid, efficient, winning basketball. As a reward, they won the Horizon league regular season and tournament championships. They then won their first round NCAA tournament game. In fact, it would be tough to argue that UWM wasn’t playing the best basketball of any team in the state of Wisconsin in March. If you saw the last 3-4 games that the Panthers played, you know that they were playing at a higher level than they had all year. They were undoubtedly playing better than the rapidly collapsing Wisconsin Badgers, and were probably just a notch above the Marquette Golden Eagles, who are on the verge of being great, but weren’t quite there yet this season.

So, after all of this success, and Jeter imparting his winning ways on UWM, it is a bit awkward to say this, but I will say it anyway. I hope that Rob Jeter is offered, and accepts, the head coaching job at Iowa State.

This all goes back to something that I’ve been discussing all year with my friends. You see, while I have tremendous respect for what Jeter does, and truly appreciate his coaching ability, his efficient style of basketball is something that I don’t enjoy watching at UWM. For me, UWM has always offered something different. While Wisconsin will always be the place that I primarily hitch my wagon to as a fan, UWM has provided me with a much-needed change of pace. Last season was probably the best example of this. With Bo Ryan winning with his methodical, structured system, and Bruce Pearl running his team up and down the floor at record pace, flailing his arms and sweating up a storm, I could honestly say that I could attend a Big Ten game at the Kohl Center and a Horizon League game at the Mecca on consecutive nights and be equally entertained. (Let’s forget last season even happened for Marquette, okay?). This wasn’t because UWM was winning (though this helped), but rather, it was because the Panthers were running up and down the floor in a frantic manner that I would never see the Badgers do. As I’ve crudely explained to friends in an analogy that does not reflect my moral values, but is the only way that I feel like I can accurately describe the situation, it was as if Wisconsin was my wife, who I loved with all my heart, but UWM was my kinky mistress that I could not keep away from. Only, because this was just basketball, I was actually free to enjoy both.

This year, however, that dynamic changed. UWM players weren’t sprinting up and down the floor like their hair was on fire, and the coach on the sidelines wasn’t slamming down his expensive suit-coat from Harley's and waving his arms to pump up the crowd. The Panthers were still winning, but at the end of the day, things seemed a lot less fun. Instead of watching Wisconsin pick an opponent apart, and then watching UWM rip an opponent apart, both were doing something very similar (even if UWM was still more athletic). Sure, the rubber chicken toss during timeouts in the second half was still fun, but the excitement level afterward just didn’t maintain. UWM was playing good basketball, but that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted them to provide something different from Marquette and Wisconsin.

So my ideal? Jeter, and his solid coaching resume gets out of town so that Iowa State fans can appreciate his ability as I cannot. He’s a pretty good guy, as well, from what I hear, and this works out for him, too, since he’s got a job in a major conference and he doesn’t have to rebuild a mid-major program that just lost seven seniors. Meanwhile, UWM gets a $900,000 buyout from Iowa State (which is an insane move by Iowa State, by the way) and can buy a good coach for 2-3 years. Who should that be? Well, UWM has had success by bringing in dominant guys from lower divisions (Bo Ryan, a division three master, and Bruce Pearl, a king in division two), and nearly did the same a year ago before hiring Jeter. Last year my friend Adam emailed me an article about Mike Dunlap, the coach of division 2 Metropolitan State. He’s a guy that routinely holds 4am practices, punishes players by making them run two miles with a medicine ball, and has run a 100-mile ultra-marathon. (Best quote in the article: "The race begins at the 75-mile mark," Dunlap said. "About the 16th and 17th hours, you start hallucinating. I had a guy running with me, holding a flashlight, and I started jumping over rocks. He looked at me and asked what I was doing. I told him I was avoiding those rocks. There weren’t any rocks.") Tell me that’s not a guy who’s just insane enough to make UWM basketball the exciting show that it should be? If he's at all intested in coming to Milwaukee, I'll drive out to Denver and pick him up myself.

In the end, I do feel somewhat guilty that I’m hoping for more style to go along with UWM’s substance. The substance should be enough. But when you’re the little guy in town, and you don’t have the allure of the Big Ten or the Big East coming to town every night, you’ve got to do something extra. Hopefully, Jeter moves on and that something extra comes back to town. If not, at least we’ll have another team playing solid basketball in Milwaukee.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Weekend Annoyances

As always, the first weekend of the tournament (and the finals of the high school tournament) was phenomenal. I’ve got plenty to talk about from the past weekend, and despite the state of Wisconsin being done with college basketball for the year, I had an overwhelmingly good time. No weekend is perfect, though, and so before I get to all of the fun stuff that went on, I’d like to start off the week by discussing the handful of things that annoyed me this weekend. In the grand scheme of things, these are all minor annoyances, but they’re all worth noting, if only to prove that even the best weekend of the year can be improved. So today I’m breaking out my angry side, but don’t worry–happy Chris will be back tomorrow to talk more about the good things that he saw over the weekend. But for now, here’s the list of things that bothered me:

1) I’m annoyed that the TV viewing experience for the first couple of rounds was, as always, good, but could have been a lot better. I knew things were going to be less than perfect when I fired up the chain of televisions in my living room on Thursday night, and the game on the high definition CBS channel was not in high definition. Rumor has it that because Time Warner was offering extra games on their free multi-cast, they were unable to provide the main game in high definition. I suppose if I had to choose between one or the other, I’d have taken the multi-cast, as well, but it was still a bit disappointing to miss out on the HD experience, seeing as this exact weekend weighed heavily on my mind when deciding whether or not to buy an HDTV. I guess it just would have been nice to have some warning about this one.

2) Further annoying about the television experience was that the switching between games that CBS does when something gets exciting, combined with other factors that I probably don’t know about, made the multi-cast of all the games less than worthwhile. I’m not sure that there was any point during Thursday and Friday’s action that you were able to see every game at once. Two moments from Thursday night sum this up best. First, there was one point where all but one of the CBS feeds were showing UCLA blowing out Belmont while other viable games were going on. Second, my friends and I were interested in checking out the Gonzaga vs. Xavier game when it started, but despite Gonzaga being ESPN’s late-night workhorse this year, the game was nowhere to be found for the first ten minutes. So the multi-cast, while a great idea in theory, and somewhat of an improvement over getting one standard game, was not all that it should have been. Looks like I might have to start thinking about DirectTV for next year.

3) I’m annoyed that Racine St. Catherine’s won the state division three title over Westby by a score of 68-29, apparently the largest margin of victory ever in a state title game. Maybe Westby had an off day, and maybe Racine St. Catherine’s had a great day, but this has to add fuel to concerns about private schools dominating the smaller-school divisions of high school basketball in Wisconsin. I can’t imagine anyone being happy about this game. Westby lost by an embarrassing margin, and probably shouldn’t have had to play a team as high powered as St. Catherine’s in division three. And if I had to guess, I’d tend to think that St. Catherine’s would have preferred to at least play up at division two (as they did last year before their enrollment dropped) and face some better competition. The common thought is that public school proponents are bitter about the current situation because public schools can’t seem to win state titles, but my sense from talking to various people is that there are plenty of private school people out there that are similarly peeved by their inability to play the level of opponent that they are worthy of. I’ll be interested to see if this game leads to any changes in how private schools are dealt with. It’s undoubtedly a tough issue to resolve.

4) It’s a minor annoyance, but I’m also annoyed at my neighbor for leaving a package that came in the mail for me on either Friday or Saturday at the bottom of my back stairs. I rarely use my back stairs, and had it not been for some late-Sunday re-organization of my storage space in the basement, I would have never seen that my replica Kevin Pittsnogle jersey had arrived. Luckily, West Virginia has advanced to next weekend, and I’ll have time to cheer appropriately.

5) I’m annoyed that when I went down to the UWM bookstore to look for Panther gear in a move to preempt the Panther-mania that happened last year, I found the bookstore closed for spring break. Sure, there was a t-shirt stand in the basement, but the variety there was not anywhere what it would have been if the actual store had been open. You’d think some more suitable provisions would have been made, given the excitement that ensued after last year’s tournament wins.

6) The Wisconsin-Arizona game was thoroughly annoying. Enough said.

7) I’m annoyed that Oshkosh West won the state division one title. I’m not annoyed at Oshkosh West, per se, because they’re undoubtedly deserving of the title and still have the best fans that I’ve ever seen. No, I’m annoyed because this means that I have to shut up about Milwaukee teams and their superiority for another year. And while you can kind of accept that Milwaukee is playing second fiddle to Madison, the second-largest city in the state, Oshkosh is a tougher pill to swallow. Even if they play great basketball there.

8) I’m annoyed with myself for how my brackets have gone. First off, my master bracket predicted Montana winning its first round game, and Georgetown upsetting Ohio State. I lacked the courage to follow through with these picks when it came time to enter pools, though. My bigger annoyance, though, is that after a stellar first couple of days (indeed, I’m sitting in the #1 spot in both of the pools that I entered), Sunday afternoon’s games proved that the guy who wins the first weekend usually doesn’t end up winning the entire pool. I lost two of my Final Four picks in Pitt and North Carolina, both to mid-major opponents. Had I lost Pitt and UNC to Kansas and Michigan State, respectively, I would have been prepared for that. But to lose two of your Final Four teams via losses to Bradley and George Mason? That’s like being sucker punched in the gut by your best friend.

9) My pathetic Sony DVD recorder is annoying me to no end, due to its constant messages that it can’t play or record DVDs because they’re dirty. This wouldn’t be annoying, were it not for the fact that most of the time when I get this message, it is with a brand new DVD. So, I’m having some difficulty recording games for the archives. Let this be a lesson to you–buying "refurbished" items at the Sony outlet may not always be the wisest move.

10) I'm annoyed that an NBA game ran long again on Sunday night, and as a result, I'm sitting here wondering who got cut in the final 8 minutes of Knight School, which were cut off by my DVR.

Back tomorrow with some sunnier thoughts. I swear to you–most of the weekend was really, really good.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Day One Notes

Quick notes from yesterday’s happenings before I take off for Madison to take in the Wisconsin game at a bar, prior to attending a slew of high school tournament games:

1) As promised, despite some ignorance of the national scene, I had a nice day in my brackets yesterday, picking 14 of the 16 games correctly. Actually, my master bracket that I was working off of had 15 of 16, but when it came the time to pull the trigger on laying down actual cash, I abandoned my theory that Montana would upset Nevada because Larry Krystkowiak, one of a long line of hilarious Milwaukee Bucks from the 1980s, coaches the Grizzlies. Just goes to show you that you need to follow your stupid theories when picking tourney games. What really burns me, though, is I emailed a friend of mine who knows nothing about basketball my master bracket, and she’s likely sitting atop her pool with 15 out of 16 picks correct today. Right now there’s a lot of people confused at my friend’s basketball picking prowess.

2) That remaining team that let me down? That would be Marquette, who I homer-picked to the Sweet Sixteen. But well the Golden Eagles let me down by not advancing, their season was anything but a let-down, since at the beginning of the year I expected them to be done with their season due to an NIT loss by now. And things only look like they’re going to get better from here.

3) Game of the day yesterday was probably Tennessee-Winthrop (though B.C. and Pacific going double-OT would get some consideration). The excitement in my office was overwhelming as we all gathered around a small television that one of my co-workers had brought in and saw Chris Lofton hit the winning shot. Of course, we all also thought that Lofton traveled before hitting that shot, but that doesn’t bug me too much. I’m just happy that Tennessee won.

4) Rob Jeter has officially earned every dollar of his contract at UWM. While he was left with lots of talent when he took over the reigns from Bruce Pearl, completely shifting the team’s style of play with seven seniors was a tough move. Looks like everyone is coming together at the right time, as UWM has looked like a different team since the Horizon League tournament began. Here’s hoping that there’s another rush for merchandise at the UWM bookstore. It’s kind of fun having another school in town that people actually have pride in.

5) No shocks yesterday at the high school tournament, but I’ll be interested to see what goes down today. Milwaukee King-Madison Memorial should be the marquee game of the day. I’m sticking with King to win it all, but you never know what will happen in march.

Time to take off for Madison. More to follow this weekend...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Last Minute Bracket Notes

I was hoping to post my bracket to the world today, since unlike a lot of people out there, I’m not secretive about my picks. Unfortunately, after a lot of hard thinking, and even some brief tips via email from my tech-savvy friend Haddon, my head is still too hard to figure out a manner in which to deliver my picks to you in a PDF format. So in lieu of that today, some final thoughts on my key NCAA picks, and other bracket-related thoughts.

1) Honestly, even before it became the hot thing to say that Memphis-Oral Roberts may be the best chance we’ve ever seen for a 16-seed to beat a 1-seed, that thought was already bouncing around my head. In the span of just 4-days, though, the idea has become completely played-out and I want nothing to do with it. So just win your first round match-up, okay Memphis? I still think you’re probably the weakest #1 seed I’ve ever seen (did the world completely forget that Conference-USA has roughly 2.5 legit teams?), but I don’t want to go though the next few weeks hearing people tell me that they “totally called that one.” If a 16 ever falls, I want it to be something that no one expects, like Duke dropping it’s first game.

2) Every year it seems that I’m filling out my bracket, and the two teams that I think have the best shot at a national title end up in the same region. So I can’t put them both in the Final Four, and I have a ridiculous epic battle that I can’t decide on in the round of eight. This year, that would be Duke vs. Texas. I’m not sure how it’s going to turn out, but I picked Duke to advance, and then win it all. But another two minutes of thinking, and that could have been Texas in my national championship.

3) I’m picking Wichita State to win their first round match-up solely because their nickname is “The Shockers.” Heaven help us if they get to the Sweet Sixteen, because jokes about their nickname will immediately become more played-out than the theory about Memphis losing to a 16-seed.

4) I’ve got six Big East teams in the Sweet Sixteen, and no Big Ten teams. To say that the Big East grew on me during conference tournament week (when I actually took the time to watch them play) would be an understatement. Of course, it should be noted that I’m picking Marquette to get to the Sweet Sixteen largely because I’m a tremendous homer, and because I laugh every time I see the stupid goatee of UCLA’s Jordan Farmar. It should also be noted that even I don’t understand why I’m picking Georgetown over Ohio State in the second round, seeing as I don’t think Georgetown is very good. Sometimes you’ve got to go with your gut, though.

5) My risky pick of the bracket is Pitt for the Final Four. It’s risky because if they get to the second round, they likely collide with Kansas, a team that has some momentum coming into the tournament, and could easily end Pitt’s season on the first weekend. But I love the Panthers, and the thought of the possibility of making Gonzaga my “safe” Final Four pick out of the Oakland region just seemed too absurd.

6) Right now people are either way too excited about Syracuse, or are completely dismissing the concept that the Orange have any chance of winning a game. Consequently, I have no idea what to make of Gerry McNamara and company.

7) I know very few things with regard to this tournament, but I know that U-Conn will falter and drop a game at some point, pissing a lot of people off.

8) I’ve heard many people talk about how great a match-up Arizona and Wisconsin will be in the first round. I don’t know–I still can’t see why the most disappointing Arizona team in years playing against the most inconsistent team of Bo Ryan’s tenure is all that intriguing. My theory is that lots of people hate Wisconsin and Arizona and just want to see them suffer. Either way, Villanova’s the team that I’m 3rd most excited about coming into this tournament, so nether Wisconsin or Arizona should be around very long.

9) I caught a brief snippet of UWM’s coach Rob Jeter at his press conference last night, where he detailed the fact that Oklahoma has about 30 years more head-coaching experience on its staff than UWM, which has 11-months. Kind of an interesting fact. (There, I officially know something about Oklahoma). I can’t wait to eventually see this game (which I’ll be recording today while I’m at work).

10) The potential match-up that I’m most looking forward to? Iowa vs. West Virginia. Obviously, this will be an exercise in contrast, with the three-point-happy Mountaineers trying to launch shots on the Hawkeyes, a team known for its defense. It will also be an endurance contest, with me seeing how long I can last watching Kevin Pittsnogle and Greg Brunner, two of the more bizarre looking players in college hoops, in high definition before I’m forced to retreat in a frightened manner to a safe room

11) I’m only in one pool this year, but I’m guaranteeing a win. This might seem odd, given that the last time I won a pool was back when I was in middle school. That year I swept the three pools I was in based largely on a hunch that I had about St. John’s, and an informed guess about the success of a George Washington team that trotted out Yinka Dare as its starting center. If I had to rank my knowledge of college basketball that year, aside from my brilliant analysis of the Dare (who went on to record something like 3 assists in his handful of years in the NBA) situation, I didn’t know all that much. This year, my intense focus on in-state teams means that while I was off watching, say, Carroll College, I was completely missing what was going on around the nation. I think that bodes well for me, because as you know, the person who wins your pool is almost always someone with a maddeningly small knowledge of college basketball. Though it may not seem that way with me, I assure you my picks are closer to those of the uninformed average joe than you might think.

And, two final notes, unrelated to the actual brackets:

1) Well, the Journal Sentinel is following the lead of the New York Times, and has quoted me in a piece about workers trying to deal with the distraction of the NCAA tournament. As you can see, I’ll be doing my best to strike a balance between work and basketball, but basketball may be somewhat dominant over the next two days.

2) For those of you not from Milwaukee, we’re expecting a small snow storm here today. I’ve heard up to seven inches may fall by midnight. To my surprise, there was no snow on the ground when I awoke this morning. Nonetheless, when my clock-radio went off today, I heard a list of about 15-20 schools and businesses that were closing for a snow day. Either the people that run these institutions are the most overly cautious people in the universe, or there are some basketball fans in positions of authority around here. Either way, I’d like to take this opportunity to officially salute the leaders of any school or business that have called for a snow day on the opening day of the NCAA Tournament before a single flake os snow has even hit the ground. I’d like to also thank nature for giving these brilliant administrators the perfect excuse to close down for tournament time.

Enjoy day one, and know that I’ll be feverishly checking scores along with you all day.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Preparations Are Under Way

Last night I was deep into the process of planning outThursday's game-watching, re-wiring my entertainment center to accommodate four televisions, and setting up game plans for watching the high school tournament on Friday. So with all the little tasks, I ran out of time to come up with something to discuss for today. True to my word, however, I am proud to relay that I did not watch the play-in game between Monmouth and Hampton last evening (nor did I watch the opening round of the NIT, even though Stanford intrigues me), opting instead to run some errands, and enjoy my recording of the MTV series There and Back, the reality show following the life of one of those guys that used to be in O-Town, the fourth rate boy band. If you need a quick break from basketball in order to recharge your batteries, and you enjoy laughing at people that aren’t all that bright, I highly recommend this program.

Back tomorrow with some final thoughts on interesting things that I see in the NCAA bracket.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Four Quick Takes

1) Last night I saw the footage of the Army women’s team winning a game to get into the women’s NCAA tournament. I’ve never had a problem with students storming the court after a big win, but even I had to admit that it looked really bizarre having Army students storm the court in camouflage pants. It just reminded you that these students actually would know how to storm things other than a basketball court.

2) I’m loving Knight School more and more by the week. Last night I got the chance to see Sunday’s installment. Let’s just say that if you haven’t seen the segment where Bob Knight (and to a lesser extent, his staff) are trying to distract the walk-on candidates while they’re shooting free-throws, you need to do whatever you can to catch a replay sometime this week. Is there anything more entertaining than Bob Knight standing behind a 20-year-old student shooting free-throws and saying "I’m going to kick you in the ass if you miss this shot?"

3) I’m dying to find the time to watch ESPN’s documentary about Sebastian Telfair, Through the Fire. I love documentaries, and I’m probably going to spend a good part of the start of off-season watching the unwatched documentary DVD’s that have piled up in my apartment over the winter. This seems like a nice way to ease into things.

4) The NCAA tournament play-in game is tonight. Count me again as someone who won’t be watching. I hate this game. As I’ve said in the past, I think it’s an absolute travesty that Hampton and Monmouth, who both won their conference tourneys to assure themselves a bid to go to the NCAA tourney, have to play yet another game to get to the real tournament. And why? So that the tournament can give an extra at-large birth to some crap-ass team like Air Force who’s not going to win the tournament. So instead of some kid from Hampton (or Monmouth–I don’t know who’ll win) getting the thrill of his life, and stories that he’ll tell his grandkids about, some guy from Seton Hall will get to play yet another game in a big arena and joke to his friends that the nickname of the school that he’s playing against is "The Shockers." Doesn’t anyone else see how wrong this is?

Oshkosh West vs. Fond du Lac: An Atmosphere to Remember

Saturday night I saw through the Oshkosh West-Fond du Lac game. At stake was a trip to Madison for the state tournament. The excitement was obvious as one walked UW-Oshkosh’s Kolf Center. I was excited to watch the game, and take in the type of atmosphere that’s just a tad different than you normally find in the Milwaukee area. Game notes below. Although let’s be honest–while the game itself was interesting, the crowd, and other things surrounding the game were the real fun, so that’s most of what I’m going to reflect on:

1) My arrival in Oshkosh to meet up with a friend was well before game-time, and I noticed on my drive by the Kolf Center, UW-Oshkosh’s fieldhouse, that there were several UW-Oshkosh lots offering parking for a nominal fee, ranging from $3-$5. I suppose with the number of people expected to attend the game, it made sense to have lots charging for parking, but I did just fine parking at one of the many spots a few blocks away. I’m no sucker.

2) I was somewhat concerned about getting to the game on time, since pre-game dinner at one of my friends’ apartments ran until about 6:50pm, and the game was starting at 7pm, but we actually timed things perfectly, walking in just as player introductions began. And to make things even better, though the gym was packed, we managed to sit in a corner that was pretty sparsely populated. Don’t get me wrong, I love seats at half court as much as the next guy, but there’s also something to be said for being able to stretch out. And in situations like Saturday night’s game, just the chance to get in the gym is all I’m looking for.

3) Going to a game in Oshkosh brought out one of those little things that I hate about myself. I was sitting there watching the game and thinking about things. I sat there knowing that Oshkosh West had legitimate talent in Andy Polka and Tim Jarmusz, and that Fond du Lac is a team that coach Dick Diener seems to take to the state tournament every year (even if their record didn’t reflect a typical Fondy team this year). I knew that it would be a slow, methodical, well-played game. I knew that Oshkosh West was ultimately very deserving of the trip that they would earn by the time the night was over. And yet, I also knew that at the end of the night, I would be thinking to myself (if not openly telling my friends) "These guys are pretty decent, but in Milwaukee they’d just be one of several on a short list of good teams." Yes, I’m a Milwaukee snob (which is sort of an oxymoron when you think about it). And I guess I sort of understand why people in other parts of the state often tend to hate guys like me. But after all these years, as illogical as it may be in situations like this, I still can’t stop myself. So feel free to hate me, I guess. I totally understand why.

4) Well, it wasn’t tough to pick out who Andy Polka, Oshkosh West’s star player was. He was the guy who was clearly bigger and stronger than everyone else on the court. Polka didn’t have an overwhelming first half, but showed some nice moves in the second half. I’ll be interested in seeing how he fares at the state tournament now. It was only a few years ago that I saw another big man from Oshkosh West (UWM’s Adrian Tigert) and got into an argument with a bunch friends over whether he was an over-hyped guy that was just built up because his team got to state, or if he was a solid player-in the making for UWM. In a rare moment of wisdom, I found myself on the right side of this argument. (It took my five years for my point to be proven, but take that Brian and Gus!)

5) As I noted yesterday, I absolutely loved Oshkosh West’s student section. Large, spirited, and loud, they’re exactly the type of crowd that the WIAA wants to have sitting on the baseline at the state tournament. Four things made them so outstanding. First, they were about the most organized group that I’ve ever seen. A few leaders in the front of the section took it upon themselves to give instructions to the crowd behind them on a giant dry erase board. That ensured a unified section. Second, they were diverse. Of the most visible crowd leaders, you couldn’t help but notice that one was a guy who was wearing khakis and a sweater vest, and another was a guy who had painted his entire body blue. Not really the two kinds of guys you’d expect to be sitting together in the cafeteria, but they were unified for the cause on Saturday night. Third, they were loud. And above all else, a crowd needs to be loud. Finally, they were creative. I always enjoy seeing a crowd do that thing where they pretend, in unison, that they’re riding on a roller coaster. The Oshkosh West students took this to a new level, though, and after finishing their own roller coaster session, sent the blue painted guy over to lead the adult section (I hesitate to say parents section, since I typically end up in this section, and as far as I know, I haven’t fathered any children) in the same deal. Seeing an entire half of the gym act like students, and then, upon finishing, get as pumped as I’ve ever seen a group of adults at a high school basketball game ranks as maybe the best crowd moment I’ve ever seen at one of these games. So here’s to you, Oshkosh West students–you’re the best I’ve ever seen.

6) In perhaps the only overzealous moment by a member of the Oshkosh West student section, two guys walked to the opposite end of the court to wave a school flag in front of the Fond du Lac student section. Security shut them down about 5 seconds into the flag waving. What puzzles me about this whole incident is that the guy with the flag even had enough time to get it unfurled. The kid had to walk the full length of the court with a flag during a stoppage in play. I’m no genius, but when he got 10 feet into his journey, I knew trouble would be brewing. I’d have been on the flag-bearer by the time he got to halfcourt. Let’s pay attention, okay security?

7) A lot of people see the 49-31 score and think that this wasn’t much of a game. They’d be wrong. The game was within four at the half, and the score didn’t get out of hand until Oshkosh West got up about 8 points early in the fourth quarter. From there, it seems like I looked down at one point, and suddenly the Wildcats were up 20. Between killing clock, and finishing plays on offense, West really turned it on to close the game. Fondy hung around longer than lots of people expected, or are even aware of now, though.

And so the game ended, with the undefeated, highly ranked team going to state. Oshkosh West did their part to help make this year’s state tournament one of the most talented fields in years. I retired to play cards with my friends, and spend an evening in Oshkosh. And while spending an evening in Oshkosh seldom means that you’re going to have an entertaining night, Saturday ended up being a rare exception. Thanks, high school basketball, for making Oshkosh a somewhat entertaining place to be.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Random Weekend Thoughts

Today’s about quick notes, since there’s so much info to process. Later in the week I’ll try to get around to talking more about the two high school games that I saw, and really breaking down the brackets. But for now, we’re going rapid-fire style, and jumping all over the place, from high school, to college, and everything I can think of.

1) I generally like the draws of all the Wisconsin-based teams in the tournament (though admittedly, my in-state focus this year prevents me from knowing much about out-of-state teams). In my uninformed estimation, Marquette’s bracket sets up the best of all three teams, facing an Alabama team who lost their best player mid-season to start things off. I haven’t seen Alabama this year, but last year when they played against Wisconsin, they didn’t exactly blow me away. I’m not sure how much things have changed in that year’s time, but hopefully not much. A win there likely pits the Golden Eagles against UCLA. Maybe I’m underestimating the Bruins, since their star player, Jordan Farmar is a pretty goofy looking guy, but I think they’re the 2 seed that I would most want to play (regardless of the fact that ESPN analyst and former Bruin coach Steve Lavin has UCLA making a deep tournament run in is bracket). After that, it’s probably not even worth guessing what will happen, but some revenge on Kansas for the Final Four blowout a couple years back would be sweet.

2) The Wisconsin-Arizona game will be a fun one, if for no other reason that both teams’ best players are athletic guys who, prior to this year, spent most of their time playing power forward, despite having bodies more typical of a small forward (or even perhaps an off-guard). Nothing more needs to be said about 6'5" Alando Tucker. As for 6'4" Hassan Adams, the only other player I’ve seen that’s in his stratosphere in terms of athletic ability is Dominic James. And seeing that I’ve said before that James is one of the three most athletic human beings that I’ve ever seen, I’d say that Adams is in good company. Whoever wins this game, though, it’s going to be a short tourney, since Villanova is almost guaranteed to be the next foe, and I consider them to be the second toughest 1-seed to play. Particularly since guard Allan Ray is going to be ready to go for the Wildcats. (I didn’t see his gruesome eye injury, and as a guy who nearly passed out while watching a birthing video in sex-ed class in middle school, something tells me it’s good that I missed this one.)

3) I must sheepishly admit that I know only three things about UWM’s tourney foe, Oklahoma. First, Kelvin Sampson is their coach. Second, Kevin Bookout has an awesome name. Third, my al-time favorite UWM player, James Wright, originally committed to play at Oklahoma before backing out and deciding to stay home and play for the Panthers. So, I’ll probably be more ignorant of how this game should go than most people that I know.

4) Anyone else catch the brief altercation in the Duke-Boston College game? To me, three things are notable about the incident. First, the announcing team took about seven replays to realize what I (and most of the nation) realized on first glance–Duke’s Greg Paulus was just pumping his fist in excitement and any contact with BC’s Louis Hinnant was incidental (though not knowing this Hinnant’s response was pretty understandable, as well). Second, the coaches did a great job of keeping their players in line during the incident. Finally, as good as the coaches were in separating the players, Duke’s Josh McRoberts made perhaps his most impressive move of the year, boxing out roughly 75% of the Duke bench in order to keep them off the court.

5) I’ve seen four of the eight teams playing in the division one high school tournament next weekend (not counting Madison Memorial, some snippets of which I have seen on TV). My quick takes on each team that I’ve seen?

Milwaukee King: Remarkably talented, incredibly deep, astonishingly mentally tough, and nearly impossible to rattle. If I was a betting man, I’d wager lots of money on King bringing home a gold ball.

Oshkosh West: Talented, smart and methodical. A couple of stud players. Will be a tough out for anyone. I don’t know much about their quarterfinal opponent, Verona, but I see the most likely scenarios for Oshkosh West being elimination in the quarterfinals, or a trip to the final game.

Brookfield Central: Due partly to the large shadows cast by conference foe Wauwatosa East, and lots of nearby city teams, the Lancers have flown under the radar. Scott Bagguley is a solid, consistent guard, and teammate David Kersey is one of the better players that no one is talking about. Lots of people are penciling in quarter-final opponent Madison Memorial to go to the semi-finals, but if I’m picking a first round upset, Brookfield Central is my pick. They have the chance to really surprise some people.

Arrowhead: Their run to the state tournament is attributed by most to two things: Milwaukee Vincent’s sectional loss to Homestead, and the return of Charlie Chapman, Arrowhead’s top player, from an 18-game suspension. I won’t argue with either of these points, but I’ll also note that based on what I saw, Arrowhead wasn’t a half bad team before either of these events. A good quarterfinal draw against Menomonie (seemingly another team making a mildly surprising run to state) could mean a semi-final appearance for the guard-heavy Warhawks. They won’t have the fire-power to go all the way, but they’re not as painfully out-classed as many people seem to think.

6) On another high school note, I stopped in on the Oshkosh West vs. Fond du Lac sectional final on Saturday night. As I said, a full update is forthcoming, but for now I’ll just say this–Oshkosh West had perhaps the coolest student section that I’ve ever seen. This fact helped create a great game-atmosphere on Saturday night.

7) Final high school note of the day–one of my friends has requested that I give some love to his Manitowoc Roncalli Jets for making it to state in division three. I don’t know much about the Jets, but Greg’s a good guy (as are most of the Roncalli guys that I know), so here’s that shout out.

8) From time to time I get emails from people wanting to promote basketball-related things for them. Usually I tend to ignore them, or politely decline. Last week, however, I was sent something regarding a product called Bracket Brains that looked sort of interesting. Basically, it’s a program that statistically predicts games based on factors that you rank. If any of you know my friend Adam, who’s constantly creating some new hair-brained gambling tool, this is the type of thing that he would create if he had the time. Though I’m not much of a gambler, it’s sort of a neat thing to play with, anyway. So give it a look. (In the interest of full disclosure, I get a kick-back from the Bracket Brains people if you order the service through the link in this paragraph. I fully expect, however, that the aforementioned Adam is the only person I know who would pay for such a service, so I’m certainly not posting this for the money.)

9) Lawrence University’s undefeated season and run toward the division three Final Four ended on Friday night with a loss to Illinois Weslyan. Sad to see the state’s big division three power fall, but if you’re going to go down, you might as well do so playing Jack Sikma’s alma mater.

Back tomorrow, with thoughts after I’ve had time to take in the brackets.

Friday, March 10, 2006

St. John's vs. Milwaukee Lutheran: The Real Tourney Games Begin

I spent my Thursday night out at the Homestead High School fieldhouse watching the high school division two sectional semifinal game between Milwaukee Lutheran and St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy. In a strong Milwaukee sectional, these were arguably the two best remaining teams (though New Berlin Eisenhower may have something to say about that on Saturday). The marquee game in the area (and perhaps the state?) last evening, it was a draw that filled the sizable Homestead fieldhouse to the point where numerous fans ended up standing along the baseline. For a game that was expected to be as good as this one, it was only fitting that it be held in what is, in my estimation, the nicest of the handful of new fieldhouses built by local high schools in recent years. The game, and the venue lived up to the billing, with St. John’s bringing home a two point win to advance to the sectional finals. Notes below:

1) As a friend and I walked towards the gym, we found ourselves directly in front of a group of Milwaukee Lutheran students. I heard one of the students, as she was peering at the entrance to Homestead, ask her friend in a tone that seemed shockingly un-ironic given the question, "Is this sort of a ghetto school?" Apparently this girl must not get out much, leading to her unfamiliarity with the fact that Mequon is one of the more affluent communities in the Milwaukee area. To her friend’s credit, he quickly made fun of her, which is what good friends do when you say something stupid.

2) Minutes before the game started, the cadets from St. Johns Military Academy entered the gym and filed into their section of the fieldhouse. With the exception of a small contingent that were wearing "6th man" t-shirts, the entire section was in uniform. Sort of like what you see at the Army-Navy game. It’s not every day that you get to see a student section in military uniforms, and as my friend Gus noted, it would be kind of a cool thing to see a the state tournament. Given that St. John’s won, there’s a pretty good chance that we could see this unique sight.

3) While the cadets were certainly a unique student section, it bears noting that Milwaukee Lutheran, in the three times that I have seen them this year, has brought one of the most massive and most spirited student sections that I have encountered this year. I almost feel a little bad for fans that solid that they won’t get the chance to head to Madison and see their team.

4) As I noted, the gym was packed. Conspicuously in attendance and watching from one of the baselines were a handful of players from Milwaukee Vincent and Wauwatosa East. You’ve got to love the fact that this game was big enough that players from schools that have no direct interest in the game (Vincent and Tosa East are in a different division than Lutheran and St. John’s, though I suppose there could be some inter-team friendships) would still come out to watch, anyway. That’s just how big this game was.

5) Last night, for the first time since I saw former Brookfield Central basketball player and current Wisconsin football player Joe Thomas play hoops, I saw a player who could without question kick my ass if we ever met and got into an altercation (Note–undoubtedly there are tons of high school kids who could kick my ass, but with most of them there would be at least maybe a 2% question as to whether they could do it.) That player was St. John’s forward Marcus Melvin. Melvin’s muscular 6'3" frame and physical play have to make him intimidating to opposing forwards, most of whom I must assume are taller than Melvin. As with most guys who are so frighteningly strong, Melvin also appeared to be a pretty good ball player, putting up one of the better rebounding performances that I’ve seen this year, and generally patrolling the lane well last evening.

6) I’m still sort of angry at myself for making this game the first time all year that I’ve seen Trevon Hughes play. Nonetheless, at least I got to see him live once (and perhaps will get to see more if St. John’s gets to state). And I guarantee the venue and the opposition was much better than when I saw him play one half of basketball against tiny Lake Country Lutheran in an elementary school gym last year. My thoughts? He’s lightning quick, and has a better outside shot than I had anticipated. He wasn’t a huge factor on defense, and tended to try to do a few too many tricky things for my liking, but when he wasn’t looking to do the spectacular, he would occasionally have one of those "How the hell did that guy do that?" moments in the flow of the game. My friend Gus, who’s usually a bigger Wauwatosa homer than I, was convinced after the first quarter that Hughes should be player of the year over Jerry Smith. I don’t think I agree with that assessment (recognizing, of course, that I am inherently biased toward Smith), but there’s little doubt that Hughes is a nice find for Wisconsin.

7) Top cheer of the night came after a break-away layup by St. John’s Martin Esters. The cadets from St. John’s began chanting "That’s Our German!" in reference to Esters’ German roots prior to enrolling at St. John’s.

8) The St. John’s student section, going in a different direction than the standard "Defense, Defense!" cheer that so many crowds do, spent most of the evening instead chanting "Offense, Offense!" On one level, it was a mildly creative cheer that brought a grin to my face. On another level, it was sort of off-putting to see a large group of young men in military attire calling for more offense. I thought the military was supposed to be primarily an organization based in defense. Hence, the "Department of Defense." My mistake, I guess.

9) One of the great facets of the Homestead fieldhouse is an open area above the bleachers on the far wall where there’s a series of windows allowing for taping of the game, and general observation by people with official duties. It’s sort of like a mini press-type area. Maybe the most entertaining of the folks using this area last night was a student statistician for Milwaukee Lutheran. After one particularly excellent Lutheran stretch, I observed the stat guy leap out of his chair as St. John’s called time-out, after which he began dancing to the hip-hop music being piped into the gym. That’s some real emotion there, because as much as I love basketball, I’d have to sheepishly admit that if I was taking stats across the gym from most of my friends, I probably wouldn’t be apt to leap from my chair like that. So my compliments to the stat guy for being a true fan, and showing some emotion even when a couple hundred of his friends weren’t sitting right next to him.

10) Scariest moment of the game came when Trevon Hughes got tangled up with a Milwaukee Lutheran defender after a layup, and ended up on the ground rolling around and clutching his leg in pain. The entire crowd rose to its feet to see how Hughes was, and I wondered for a brief moment if I had just seen the second of Wisconsin’s top two high school players go down with a season-ending injury (and out of the right corner of my eye, I peered towards the opposite baseline to see if there was any reaction from Jerry Smith, who in attendance with his cast on). Then about 10-15 seconds later, Hughes popped up effortlessly and jogged towards his bench on the opposite end of the floor. It was sort of like what you see when you accidentally end up catching two minutes of a televised soccer game where one of the players gets tripped and ends up acting like he’s been struck in the shin by a sledge hammer, before getting up and sprinting down the field moments later. Fortunately, Hughes showed no signs of pain the rest of the night.
11) I’ve talked about St. John’s star players, but Milwaukee Lutheran was also obviously very talented. Each time I have seen lanky guard Derrick Hankins, I have come away impressed (I would say "more" impressed, but Hankins was absolutely on fire the first time I saw him, so I was sold after that first game). Hankins, who’s known for his affinity for shooting threes (and for making lots of them) canned two long, ridiculous treys at the end of the game (upping his game total for three-pointers to five). The game was pretty much out of reach when he hit those shots, but that didn’t take away from how impressive they were. Travis Handy, Hankins’ backcourt mate, was also his standard impressive self. Mark down Milwaukee Lutheran’s backcourt as something that I’ll really miss seeing next year.

12) Neither I, nor anyone I was sitting with saw exactly what happened immediately following the end of the game, but there was clearly some bad blood between Derrick Hankins and Trevon Hughes upon game’s end. Luckily, teammates were smart enough to separate the two (the St. John’s teammates were necessarily more prompt and forceful at restraining their star) as they began jawing and walking towards one another, and again separate them when things looked as if they were again going to escalate during the post-game handshake line when Hankins and Hughes had to shake hands. Hughes was quickly and appropriately pulled away for a talking to by his coach after this latter near-incident. I’m not sure what could cause such a reaction, but it was disappointing to see a conflict like that nearly mar the end of a fabulous game.

With the end of one of the better high school basketball games that I’ve seen this year, I hopped back in my car and made the long, rainy drive home, where I caught the end of the West Virginia-Pittsburgh game. If Gerry McNamara has taught us anything, it’s that you don’t miss a minute of the Big East tournament if you can help it. I’ll watch my recording of Marquette sometime this weekend, even though it sounds like a painful game to see. I’m not too broken up, though, since they’re still in the tournament. I’ll get to see them a week from now, well-rested and ready to go. While I love conference tournaments, I don’t get that worked up over losses when a team’s already going to the dance.

It’s off to the Milwaukee King-Tosa East game tonight (and hopefully some good internet updates on the Wisconsin game this afternoon). It’s been a great week, and the best part is that next week only gets better...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Big East Is Awesome

The Big East Tournament is freaking unbelievable. I didn’t get to see the morning games, as I am gainfully employed (a fact that I will have to somehow overcome next week at this time), but both sounded phenomenal. The replays of the end of the Syracuse-Cincinnati game were every bit as exciting as the scoreboard on my office computer had implied yesterday morning.

During the evening I eventually ended up watching Pitt-Louisville (hey, who even cares about Rutgers-Seton Hall?). How could I not watch? I mean, when I tuned in, Pitt was up 11-0 (it eventually got to 16-0). I had to see how bad this was going to get. And it got very bad. For a brief time, I wondered if Louisville was going to break double-digits by halftime, but as any team that’s having a rough first half usually does, they rattled off a number of buckets in the closing moments to break the 10-point barrier, closed the nearly 30-point deficit to 23 and took all the fun out of the ass-kicking. Now it just seemed that the Cardinals were going to lose, but the stats would be way less embarrassing. With the potential for a public shaming off the table, I turned my attention to other things in my apartment.

Of course, I didn’t turn my TV off, and with about six minutes left, I looked up from the book I was reading to find Louisville within 10 points of Pitt. I started watching, and I didn’t understand how Louisville had come back. The next 3-4 possessions I saw involved horrific offensive execution by Louisville, so I muted the TV again and got back to my book. Because you can’t totally block out basketball, I looked up again, and Louisville had cut even further into the Pitt lead. This pattern continued for the rest of the game. I would look up, Louisville would be playing horribly, I would start to read again, and the next time I would look up, the game would be closer. Finally, Louisville miraculously pulled to within three points. At this point, I had to watch the final 15 seconds or so. Of course, Louisville couldn’t do anything right the moment that I started watching, and the game ended in a five point win for Pitt. Not too shabby a comeback by the Cardinals, though. And if I was Rick Pitino, I’d think twice about declining that NIT invitation that’s sure to be coming.

Two other quick points before I end the update that I hadn’t planned on today:

1) Earlier in the evening I was on the phone with my friend Gus, who reminded me of a great quote from a high school player that I meant to call attention to the other day. In the Journal Sentinel article recapping the Milwaukee King vs. Milwaukee Pius game, King forward James Pruitt, referring to his team’s tough defensive play in the final minutes of the game leading to a King win, noted "Offense wins girlfriends and defense wins games." Not only is that an excellent quote (particularly from a high school senior), it pretty much sums up the hard-nosed game that Pruitt plays.

2) A couple of people left notes yesterday discussing all-Big Ten team members. My take on who should receive this honor? Well, first off, go see the Big Ten Wonk, because his All-Wonk 2.0 team yesterday is probably more legit than any media or coaches poll. Do you honestly think any media member or coach has seen as much, and as wide an array of Big Ten ball as the Wonk? Me neither, so I’m buying his analysis. As for my picks (assuming we didn’t have access to the aforementioned Wonk), I think it’s pretty obvious that you’d be a fool if you didn’t put Terrence Dials, Greg Brunner and Alando Tucker on the team. After that, it gets a little tougher to fill out the final two, since there are about 5-6 guys who could fill that spot. If I’m picking, though, I’m bumping both of the Illinois guys off of the coaches’ team (a tough task for me, since I still think that if all teams are playing their best games, Illinois wins the Big Ten tournament) and going with Daniel Horton and Paul Davis instead. I’m taking Horton because I think he’s the best guard in the league, and Davis because I just never seem to see the guy when he’s having one of his infamous bad nights. Plus, I think the universe would implode if a Michigan State player didn’t make the all-Big Ten team. So what if he always looks like he’s going to burst into tears?

So that’s about it for today. Back tomorrow with notes from the first of the three consecutive nights that I have slated for high school basketball watching, and perhaps a thought or two on the Marquette-Georgetown game if I have time to review it tonight.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

UWM vs. Butler: Champions Again

When I was in high school, my friend Andy used to drive me and other friends around in his 1979 Mercury Monarch, a car that had been passed down from his grandmother. The car aside from being gigantic, hard to park, and unspeakably ugly, was severely lacking in power. I could never really mock the car, though, since I didn’t exactly have my own wheels, and Andy was willing to drive me around. Near the end of our senior year, though, Andy’s family decided that it was time to get rid of the Monarch. Before selling, they had the car checked out by a mechanic who found, to everyone’s surprise, that two of the four cylinders in the car had been disconnected. So for some undetermined amount of time, the Monarch had been working on just two cylinders.

My point in this convoluted story? Well much like the Monarch was doing after that trip to the mechanic for review and repair, it seems that UWM has come out of the Horizon Conference Tournament firing on all cylinders. Last night’s Horizon League championship game was one of the best games that I’ve seen the Panthers play all year (at the very least, the second half was the best half of basketball that they’ve played). I’m appreciative of this timing, since it officially means that the state of Wisconsin will have three teams in the NCAA tournament. And it didn’t hurt that the win allowed me to force in a paragraph worth of unrelated banter today in order to creatively build up to a cliche.

My thoughts on UWM going into the tourney? I’m not sure what to make of them. I’m assuming that their recent run of appearances should help them garner a decent seed, they’re still going to have to beat a team with a better seed. I never tend to think that a team is as good as its best game, but one can’t help but be sort of intrigued that UWM played one of its best games of the season in the final game before the NCAA tournament (particularly when the team’s star player spent a huge part of the night on the bench in foul trouble). So an upset isn’t out of the question. I don’t think this team is as good as last year’s, but hey, I didn’t think last year’s team was as good as it was, either. So I’ll wait to pass judgement after I see the draw.

In the meantime, kudos to new coach Rob Jeter for winning the conference championship and returning to the NCAA tourney. Taking over a mid-major team with tournament expectations and a returning cast, though seemingly and easy job, had to be difficult. There’s lots of chances to slip up when there’s high expectations for a team, and those chances to slip up multiply when you consider that the previous coach stands a good chance of taking home national coach of the year honors. Not screwing this team up may have been one of the tougher tasks that Jeter will ever have, so I see good things for him in the future.

No bullet points today on the game, since I relaxed last night and watched this one without care to what I would write about. Sometimes, you need to turn you brain off and just be a fan.

I may take the day off from updating tomorrow, but I’m far from certain that I’ll be able to. After all, the Big East tournament kicks off today, and that’s bound to produce something interesting to talk about. Yes, conference championship week grows on me every year.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Gonzaga-LMU Game and a Myriad of Shameless Plugs

Well, I’m going to keep the basketball notes portion of this short, since I was dealing with a handful of bizarre issues in my apartment last evening, and my attention to the Gonzaga-Loyola Marymount game was intermittent until the final 10 minutes or so, when I threw all of my attention at the game, and stopped trying to unclog my kitchen sink. So here are those game notes:

1) In what was undoubtedly the first time all year that this happened, Adam Morrison was not the filthiest looking player on the floor. Thank you, Matthew Knight, for actually looking like you’ve bathed less than Adam Morrison. It’s a tough thing to do, but you really came through and gave Morrison a much needed break.

2) Gonzaga had better be happy that they have a week and a half off until the tournament starts, because a healthy J.P. Batista means a lot to them. Although a hobbled Batista put up a double-double last night, I much prefer his game when he isn’t staying loose on an exercise bike every time he goes to the bench. He’s been one of my favorite big guys to watch this year, and not just because I had him pegged for a breakout year after playing third banana to Morrison and Rony Turiaf last year.

3) There’s no nice way to say it–Loyola Marymount would have won the game if not for Chris Ayer’s blown layup at the buzzer. Brandon Worthy’s pass out of a triple team to Ayer, who was standing on one of the blocks, was phenomenal. Ayer’s layup should have been incredibly easy, but he just tossed the ball way too high off the glass. It was eerily similar to Dylan Page’s missed layup against Notre Dame in the 2003 NCAA tournament, which gave the Irish a victory over UWM and ended the Panthers’ season. The good news for Page, though, was that he had another season of excellence to go. Ayer’s career ended with that shot, and it’s about the roughest way that I can imagine for a player to go out.

4) I don’t know how Gonzaga keeps pulling these games out. Loyola Marymount had a double digit lead in the second half before the Bulldogs charged back to win the nail-biter. I’m getting off the fence now, though, and saying that Gonzaga will get to the Sweet 16 this year. Are they over-rated at #4 in the country? Undoubtedly. But they know how to win close games (since all of their games seem to be close), and after they get over a slow start in the NCAA tournament against whatever 15 seed that they’ll be playing, everyone should have their head in the game. After the week the Bulldogs have had, lots of people are writing them off. Don’t count me in that group, though.

Now that the actual basketball is out of the way, I’ve got a few shameless plugs to send your way. I can relate them all, at least tangentially, to basketball in some way. So please forgive me for abusing my platform in the name of plugging ventures of friends of mine.

1) You may remember awhile back that I did an interview with my buddy Ryan, an avid supporter and frequent scorekeeper at Lawrence University, currently home to the #1 ranked division three basketball team in nation, and only remaining undefeated college team in the country. Well, he’s started his own blog. I don’t know his exact intent for content in the future, but for now I can tell you that you should visit for two reasons. First, Lawrence basketball is a currently hot topic, and you’re not going to find any better expert than Ryan. Second, Ryan’s writing skill is phenomenal, and he’s sure to generally entertain, even if division three hoops isn’t your thing. So check him out.

2) Ryan, in addition to being an outstanding scribe, is also a bit of an artist, and designed a commemorative t-shirt celebrating Lawrence’s accomplishments over the past three years. He’s currently got an autographed version up for sale on eBay. It’s a nifty t-shirt, if I do say so myself, and a perfect item for a die-hard Viking fan.

3) Looking for a way to build up some credit with your wife or girlfriend (hey let’s face it, most of you reading this are guys) so that you can immerse yourself totally into March Madness with a clear conscience? Why not take her out to see some live theater? Believe it or not, I’m not really the creative one in my family. My older brother runs a Milwaukee-based theatre company by the name of Bialystock & Bloom. The company’s newest show, entitled "Matt & Ben" opens this Friday and runs through April 2. My understanding is that it’s a wacky comedy about an imagined pre-fame Matt Damon and Ben Affleck . As with most of my bro’s shows, this won’t in any way resemble the stuffy, pretentious picture that many people have of live theatre. You don’t need to get dressed up, the tickets are reasonably priced, and you can have a beer while you watch the show. And the shows are always uniquely entertaining (take it from me, a guy who’s not exactly the poster boy for high society). So drop by the Bialystock & Bloom website, order some tickets, and heck, take your lady out for dinner at one of the many fine eateries in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward District beforehand. Then enjoy the good karma that you’ve built up as you watch 20-30 hours of basketball during the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.

4) I meant to mention this awhile back, but I’ll again reference my brother, who at Christmas, won our annual contest to see who can get the other the tackiest gift. Long story short, he created a line of merchandise for the Chris West Basketball Yearbook, and distributed t-shirts to all of my relatives. The embarrassing merchandise line features my worst school picture ever, a kindergarten shot in which for some reason I was incapable of smiling. I’m man enough to admit that the matching red molded plastic hand chairs that I got for him and his 3-year-old daughter were not enough to overtake his brilliance this year. And since he still has the darn things for sale, I figured I’d direct you to his Cafepress store. All proceeds go to his aforementioned company. It’s a good cause, so I can handle any embarrassment that comes with my sullen 4-year-old face being distributed to the masses. Just don’t buy the thong, because while having any 4-year-old’s picture on a thong is really disturbing, it’s even more disturbing when it’s my picture.

Back tomorrow with notes on the UWM-Butler game.

Listed on BlogShares