Didn’t make it down to any madness events this past weekend, as I was derailed by work, a visit from an old friend, and my trip to Wisconsin’s homecoming football game. But things are going on in the basketball world, so I feel compelled to toss a few quick comments out there.
1) People that I talked to who went to Marquette and UWM opening weekend events were universally underwhelmed. I actually don’t blame the respective teams for this problem. I think people build up these events way too much in their heads. It’s not every year that you’re going to get a landmark moment like last year’s Marquette event provided when Dominic James threw down his first reverse dunk and effectively served notice that he was the team’s new star. Most of the time it’s a bunch of guys having some fun and doing a second-rate scrimmage, and perhaps some cheesy fan games for prizes. I’m not sure if the general public has caught on to how non-informative these things are yet. They're still fun, but you have to temper your expectations going in.
2) On Friday night, as I was going to bed, I noticed that ESPNU was showing a "madness" event, so I flipped over to check it out. The team it was showing? George Mason. Three comments on this one. First, George Mason really does seem to have done a lot for mid-majors if their first "practice" is being shown on ESPNU. Even if part of the channel’s mission is to cover less well known teams and sports, covering a "practice" of a mid-major seems above and beyond. Second, George Mason’s Final Four run notwithstanding, is there really anyone out there who’s not affiliated with the university who wants to see their opening practice? Particularly now that Jai Lewis, who was undoubtedly the most entertaining George Mason player last year, is gone? Granted, the ESPNU 11:30pm-12:30am slot isn’t the most coveted time period around, but is this choice of programming really that much of a step up from the early 1980s when ESPN was in its inifancy and showing Australian rules football?
3) Got my Blue Ribbon Yearbook this weekend. I think my neighbors thought I was weird when I ran from my mailbox to my front door skipping with joy after I discovered the package. I immediately went inside and checked out the profiles of the state teams. Nothing earth shattering was reported with regard to UWM or UWGB. Wisconsin was ranked #13 in the country, which is about right, and comes as no surprise. And the big surprise of the day? Marquette is ranked #12. To the people that know basketball, I guess the secret is out: Marquette’s guards are about as good as you’re going to see this year. Assuming that both Wisconsin and Marquette live up to their lofty rankings, their December 9 meeting is going to be even better than usual.
4) I don’t begin to understand all of the issues involved, and I haven’t read enough about the situation yet to place blame (I suspect both parties bear at least some of the guilt), but count me as one of the legions of basketball fans in Southeastern Wisconsin who is disappointed that the deal for Marquette and UWM to play each other fell through. UWM’s success may be recent, but it is still annoying that the city has two good division one teams that play their games literally across the street from one another, and there’s no chance of them playing in the foreseeable future.
5) Glad to see that Torre Johnson’s transfer to UWM from Oklahoma State is official. While it was disappointing to see Johnson dismissed from the Oklahoma State squad, I can think of few players that it will be more fun to watch in a UWM uniform. In the Journal Sentinel article regarding Johnson’s transfer back home, his high school coach notes "When Torre was in high school, he was the most dominating player in the entire state of Wisconsin." That’s a high compliment, considering that Johnson was in the same class as McDonald’s All-American, Brian Butch. Obviously Johnson’s old coach is a bit biased, but I don’t think he’s entirely off base. I had the chance to see Johnson play one time in high school and he was completely dominant. The opposing team’s fast breaks typically ended with either Johnson beating them down court and blocking a layup, or the player with the ball nervously slowing down to look for Johnson and Johnson catching up to block a layup. Granted, the opposing team’s starting center vaguely resembled Jack Black, but Johnson was still like a basketball version of Forest Whitaker's character in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. He was essentially a fail-safe insurance policy if his team ever screwed something up. Sure, he won’t be eligible until next year, but with Johnson aboard, and assuming that Ricky Franklin is the player that everyone is expecting, UWM could be back on top of the Horizon League much sooner than everyone expects.
6) Kudos to the WIAA’s actions regarding private schools in the state basketball tournament (and for Wishoops.net for reporting on those actions). For the press release, look here. The main part of the plan that I love is the first of the three components, which allows private schools to apply by a set deadline to play up a division. I suspect that the top-level division three and four teams, whose success has brought about the outcry against private schools, have wanted to have an option like this for some time, and will take advantage of the application process. It remains to be seen if this will alleviate some of issues facing the WIAA since adding public schools to the mix, but for now it looks like a good plan to me.
Ah, it felt good to get that out. I’m going to have to spewing thoughts more often...