Thursday, August 10, 2006

Random Late-Summer Thoughts

I’ve got five quick points today, and I want to spit them out before I get to the bigger issues that I’ve been chewing on all summer. That’s right, even if I’m not writing about it, I’m still thinking about basketball.

1) A common question that I’ve gotten over the summer is how I feel about the WIAA seeding the division one basketball tournament at the sectional, rather than the regional level this upcoming year. Basically, I like the move, but I don’t find it to be an earth-shattering advance. Seeding all 14-16 teams in a sectional rather than seeding two randomly clustered groups of 7-8 teams certainly makes more sense. At the end of the day, though, the goal is to get your team to state. After all, losing in the sectional finals isn't that much sweeter than losing in the second round. Indeed, this move will generally help the most appropriate teams get to state. I’m just not sure how much help it will give to teams in Milwaukee’s always-powerful Sectional 8, where it’s pretty much always been required that the winner must beat two elite-level teams prior to earning a trip to Madison. And that's sort of annoying, since Sectional 8 is typically the catalyst for seeding talks. But that’s a rant for another day (and one that I’ve been working on). Today I'm showing some love to the WIAA.

2) The other sweet thing that I noticed about the high school basketball tournament? Sectional finals and semi-finals for two of the Milwaukee-area division one sectionals (and the two most competitive ones, to boot) are taking place at the Al McGuire Center. I’d have been happy with just one of the sectionals being there, but two makes this a brilliant move. I can’t figure out what the best part of this is. It could be the venue itself, the McGuire Center, which is gorgeous, and tailor made for an event like this (as I alluded to here, in point 13). It could be that the staggering of semi-final nights (Sectional 5 on Thursday and Sectional 8 on Friday) will allow me to see two games that I would otherwise never have had the chance to see. Or it could be that Saturday night seems to be set up to include a double-header which will feature four of the best teams in Milwaukee. Kudos to whoever’s brainchild this was, because even I couldn’t have come up with a plan that’s so ideal for fans.

3) I’ve been watching bits and pieces of the new USA national team. I know that they had a close call with Brazil the other day. And I know that the team is made up of guys from the NBA, a league that I hate with a passion. But you know what? I’m kind of enjoying this team. All of this talk about restructuring the U.S. system to field teams that aren’t all-star teams looks like it’s working out splendidly. I don’t think I could pick Bruce Bowen out of a police line-up, but I love having a guy with his purported skill set around. Let him defend people while LeBron James and Dwyane Wade dazzle the world with their athleticism. All in all, I’m happy that the U.S. woke up and realized that there will never be an assembly of players like the original Dream Team in 1992 (14 years later, it truly is starting to sink in how historically talented that team was), and that it might be time to alter the process of choosing teams. And I can’t really argue with hiring Mike Krzyzewski as coach, either. These guys might not win it all, but I think the U.S. is well on the road to a few throwback type of dominant years.

4) Speaking of international ball, over the past few years I’ve developed the largely unpopular opinion that the U.S. should start thinking a bit more seriously about adopting more international rules into its basketball. I think a lot of people are offended by the notion of the U.S. changing the rules of a game that it invented to conform to the rules determined by other countries. While that does bug me a bit, the fact remains that basketball’s a world game these days, and I’d like to see our country fare better in world competitions. Would moving the three-point arc back, adopting a trapezoid lane, and tweaking the goaltending rules greatly alter the way that the game is played here in the U.S.? Sure, but if it helps the U.S. beat Lithuania a few years down the road, then I’m willing to adjust my viewing expectations.

5) Marquette just picked up a verbal commitment to play for them from Minnesota high school star power forward Trevor Mbakwe. Nice pick-up for the Golden Eagles. To refresh your memory (and mine), here’s what I wrote about Mbakwe back in January, after seeing him at the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook Shootout:

If you were trying to create an awesome video game basketball character, he would likely look quite a bit like the highly recruited junior from Henry Sibley. From his lanky, yet muscular 6'8" frame, to his Rip Hamilton protective mask, Mbakwe is pretty much exactly what a basketball player is supposed to look like. As for his play, sadly, I missed what was probably his most productive half of basketball all tournament when he led his team to a second-half comeback victory against Seymour (my friends and I had left at the half). Thus, I can only say that he looked out of position on defense at times, and often looked sort of indifferent in the first half against Seymour. In his second game of the tournament, against Milwaukee Vincent, the stats weren’t great, but Mbakwe showed a bit more fire, and spent the night in a physical battle on the blocks. If he can look this motivated all of the time, he’ll be one heck of a player. His body type also implies to me that he could be a good athletic small forward, although right now he’s definitely got the skill set and mentality of a power forward. It will be fun to see where he ends up going to college.

My prediction, based on the brief game-and-a-half glimpse that I had of Mbakwe? He’s going to be a boom or bust player at Marquette. I see him either becoming ridiculously motivated by Tom Crean (considered by many to be a great motivator), or ridiculously annoyed by Crean (whose motivational techniques don’t seem to work with everyone). If it’s the former, given that Mbakwe’s body looks custom-made for basketball, we could be looking at an all-time great. If it’s the latter, Mbakwe will transfer out within a year. There will be no middle ground. (Impressive that I can say all that after watching just 6 quarters of play, huh?)

6) I'm happy to see that Marquette has contracted with 1510/1290am in Milwaukee to broadcast its basketball games for the next few years. I've come to this conclusion after mulling the key points surrounding the situation. Yes, it's sort of a negative that the new flagship station has a much less powerful signal than the old one, but I live in a central enough location that that won't affect me much. And the positives are big. First, 1510/1290 has a sports focus, and Marquette games will fit more with their mission, as opposed to 1130am, the former station, which was pushing sports to the backburner in favor of conservative talk radio. Simply stated, the games will get their proper due on 1510/1290. Perhaps more importantly, however, the move ensures that the Steve "The Homer" True era as play-by-play man will continue. As I've noted before, Homer might not be a great play-by-play man in the traditional sense, but he brings plenty of entertainment value to the table. And as should be obvious to anyone who ever read anything I have written here, I'll take an entertaining guy over a masterful technician any day. So yeah, I'm very happy with this move.

Back in a few weeks with a handful of more in-depth thoughts.

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