Saturday, December 23, 2006

Happy Holidays!

Holiday's a time for family, and because I've got some family commitments, I'm going on a bit of a holiday hiatus. If all things go as planned, I'll check in on December 29. Until then, happy hoops watching, and happy holidays to all! May you all have a safe and happy end of the year, and find an NBA microfiber ball beneath your tree this Christmas morning.

(Oh, and don't forget to head on down to the Al McGuire Center on December 26-27 for the 2nd Annual Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook Shootout. The fact that I'm probably going to have to miss this event this year upsets me more than the fact that there's going to be no snow on the ground on Christmas day. It's the best thing out there until the state tournament, so if you like high school basketball, you are located near the Milwaukee area, and you've got either day free, it is your moral obligation to attend.)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Washington vs. LSU: Just Trying to Stay Awake

Last night presented a few options for televised games, and I found myself most intrigued by the Washington-LSU game. The factors drawing me to this game were numerous: Washington’s good and I don’t know much about them, Lorenzo Romar’s a really cool looking guy, I wanted to see how former Marquette player Dameon Mason is doing since transferring to LSU, and it’s always fun to watch a guy as big as Glen Davis (even in his new, trimmed-down body) run up and down the floor. The only downside to the game was that it was a west coast game being shown at a late hour. Thus, I ran into two problems. One, if a game ends at midnight, you can bet that I’m going to have no time to do any comprehensive writing about it for the next day. I value sleep too much for that. Second, it being a busy week and all, I was ready to fall asleep about anytime after 9pm. I toughed it out as long as I could before losing consciousness, though, and here’s the only brief observations that I can muster for today:

1) Not a lot of PT for Dameon Mason, but the one lasting memory that I had before falling asleep was seeing him drive out of control down the lane. Yep, I guess some things never totally change.

2) I’m only speculating on this one, but Washington’s arena looks like an awful place to watch a game.

3) Ryan Appleby’s not fooling anyone with his youthful mop of hair flying all around. We know that you’re balding pretty badly under there, Ryan, and will probably be shaving your head by the time that you’re taking your office ID photo when you’re out of school in 2 years.

4) I rather enjoyed watching Spencer Hawes trash talk last night, though the anger on his face while doing it was kind of scary. When you’re shooting like Hawes was last night, though, I think you earn the right to trash talk.

5) While it never materialized, had LSU come back a bit more, this game had the potential to turn into a thriller like Michigan State and Gonzaga’s early season meeting last year. You know–the one where either team would come down the court and basically score at will? Yeah, I appreciate defense, but I’m still a huge sucker for totally unchecked scoring.

So that’s all I’ve got for today. Not too bad for a guy that was drifting in and out of consciousness, though. I’m taking off of hoops tonight due to some other plans that I have, but I should be back one more time in the next few days before going on an extended holiday hiatus.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Marquette vs. Oakland: I Have No Salient Game Points

Last night was one of those rare nights where I go to a basketball game, and the game itself seems almost unimportant because of all the great stuff going on around it. I was at the Marquette-Oakland game last night. We’re at that point in Marquette’s non-conference season where the thrill of just seeing the Golden Eagles play has worn off, and watching games themselves won’t be massive amounts of fun until conference season. Either Marquette wins mightily like they should, or they struggle the entire game and leave you frustrated (we got a half of each last night). That’s just how it is during the parade of lesser-known teams on the early-season schedule. Having seen this same scenario play out over the last 15 years or so that I’ve been going to Marquette games, I’ve just come to accept it. I actually don’t mind so much anymore, since the program’s throwing us a bone here and there by playing in interesting early-season tournaments, and they’d be nuts to try and play a bunch of really tough games before heading into Big East play. But that still doesn’t mean that I’m getting overly jacked up to see Oakland come to town on a cold Tuesday night.

And that’s why night like last night are so wonderful. Last night, instead of sitting and mindlessly watching a lackluster game, I had plenty of entertainment around me. But before I get to what was so gosh darn entertaining, a few quick points about game-related things:

1) Upon arriving slightly late to the game, I looked down at the court, immediately looked at the guys that I was sitting with, and said "I had better read a story in the paper tomorrow that Oakland lost their real uniforms in transit." If they didn’t, Oakland has the worst uniform designer in the country, because with black jerseys and gold shorts, there’s few conclusions to be made, other than "someone must have screwed up the uniforms when they were packing." Your uniforms simply have to match. There’s no arguing about that. Sadly, Oakland’s uniforms also have the players’ names placed under their numbers on their jerseys, implying that the non-matching unis are no error, but simply part of a contrarian sensibility that the designer had.

2) The second half revealed another shortcoming of Oakland’s uniforms, showing definitively that the gold (more of a Notre Dame gold than Marquette’s bright gold) shorts were a really bad idea. Let’s just say that even in one of the last rows of the lower section of the arena, it was readily apparent to me that wide-bodied Oakland center Shawn Hopes was sweating a lot below the waist last night. Not something I wanted to know about.

3) Dwyane Wade was in the building last night, and was greeted by a standing ovation when he appeared on the Jumbotron. Wade was seated in courtside seats on the baseline perpendicular to the Marquette bench. This sort of bothered me. Sure, being courtside is cool and all, particularly if you never get to be that close to the action. But Wade’s actually on the floor every night, so that thrill is probably gone for him. And everyone knows that seats on the baseline don’t give you nearly the same view as you’d get from somewhere on the side of the court. Can’t we find a pair of seats with a decent view for the guy who’s probably the best player ever to lace them up at Marquette?

4) Adding strength to the theory that Oakland had lost some bags in travel, my friend Dave pointed out that every assistant coach on the Oakland bench was wearing a suit, while head coach Greg Kampe was wearing a pullover. I guess when you’re the head guy, you don’t need to look good anymore. Then again, Kampe was also either wearing a hairpiece, or had a haircut that looked like he was wearing a hairpiece, so he may just not be the most stylish guy in the world.

And while all of these points were fun to notice, the real fun came from what’s sometimes the most obvious place out there–a fan sitting in the row behind me. The gentleman behind me on my right side displayed such a potent mixture of untamed enthusiasm and lack of actual basketball knowledge, that the people sitting directly in front of him left their usual seats after about 3 minutes to find another viewing spot in the arena. My friend Greg got continually more annoyed listening to the guy. Me? I just continued laughing at the fact that I was at a basketball game, and I was sitting in front of a man who was the living embodiment of Dave Chappelle’s impersonation of Lil’ Jon. If you’re not a big Dave Chappelle fan (I’m not myself, but I’ve heard enough about this particular character to know him when I see him), fear not, as this Youtube video will give you a taste of the guy that I was sitting in front of. (If either of the guys that I watched the game with last night happens to be reading, I would encourage you to comment below on the accuracy of this comparison. I believe the approximation to be rock solid.)

Aside from being a walking comedy sketch character, what made this fellow behind me so unwittingly amusing can be boiled down to three characteristics. First, his basketball knowledge was not particularly deep. This type of guy is not a rarity, even at live basketball events, but is a prerequisite to being laughably amusing. I checked that box for the guy behind me within the first two minutes. Second, he was loud. I don’t think this guy was ever yelling, but he just had one of those voices that projected everywhere. Describe him to anyone who was sitting within 12 rows of me, and they’d know who you were talking about. Finally, he was relentless. Every meaningless possession, and every downtime moment, he was either cheering with his collection of 5-10 standard phrases (which he repeated over and over), or telling something to the guy next to him. Some people bring it only for a half, or change up their routine. This guy went all out, and didn’t change his commentary all game. You want to know more about that commentary, you say? Well here’s the top five go-to phrases that the guy behind me used while cheering during the game:

5) "Oh! Ohhhh! Oh! Ohhhhhhh!": This one could be used for either offense of defense. Basically, the guy was simply yelling, but not yelling anything substantive (which actually might have been a good choice for this guy). It was used more at the beginning of the game than the end, but was there all night.

4) "I knew he was gonna make/miss that." : I’ll give the guy behind me credit. When any of the players was taking a three pointer, he was 100% accurate in knowing whether the ball would find the bottom of the net. Now, I don’t know what was actually going on in the guy’s head, but he was nice enough to announce what he had been thinking a split second after every shot. And who’s to doubt him, as he often gave great justifications, such as "he was looking really confident there."

3) "Make that money!": Used when Marquette was on offense, and typically repeated 5-7 times during a possession, as he encouraged whoever had the ball to score a basket.

2) "Yeah!": Used mainly after an offensive score (often as a follow-up to 4-5 "make that money" comments), but also after a nice defensive play. I kid you not–if you were to play for me a recording of the guy at the game last night, and then a sound bite from the Lil’ Jon clip above, I might not be able to tell the difference.

1) "Hold ‘dat D!": When Marquette was on defense, you were guaranteed to hear this phrase multiple times. This was the go-to phrase of all go-to phrases. Amused at how often the gentleman behind me was capable of using the phrase, I decided in the second half to take count of how many times he said "hold ‘dat D!" for a stretch during the second half. Over a six-minute stretch beginning with 13:30 left in the game, I counted "hold ‘dat D!" being thrown out 39 times. Projected over an entire game, this comes out to roughly 260 uses of the phrase "hold ‘dat D!" This may or may not be an accurate projection, since the phrase was used more heavily in the first half, and the guy behind me left with about 5 minutes left in the game in order to beat the massive traffic jams that occur following poorly-attended Marquette games on cold Tuesday nights in Milwaukee.

In all my years of going to games, I’m not sure that I’ve ever been around a fan with such a delightful mix of lack of knowledge and lack of shame. Sure, I can see how he would have grated on just about everyone in my section, but I’m actually glad he was there to amuse me. We shouldn’t be getting bent out of shape over loudmouthed fools–we should be getting a laugh from them. Life’s too short to be bitter. And besides, what else is going to keep us entertained until Big East play starts?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Still Churning Away...

I can't believe that I'm taking another sick day from my hobby, but last evening was spent mostly sleeping and listening to my stomach churning. On the bright side, because the sleeping portion of the evening was tough, I ended up catching part of a late-night showing of one of my favorite episodes of the White Shadow on the Yes network last night. Who says illness can't be fun?

In the meantime, I haven't been totally idle. I recently provided a superfluous comment about Wisconsin to David Isaacs of SI On Campus for his weekly top-10 basketball rankings, since the Badgers have reached these lofty heights. And I'm thinking about a few things Badger-related that I'm just not ready to write about yet.

You've got my assurance that I'll be back tomorrow with some comments on the Marquette-Oakland game. It's time for me to suck it up and start watching basketball again.

Monday, December 18, 2006

More To Come...

This weekend I spent my Saturday watching Marquette take on a woefully inept Maryland-Baltimore County team, and enjoying televised coreverage of one of the biggest Wisconsin victories ever. Unfortunately, I have no commentary on either today, since my Sunday was not spent writing, but rather, trying to recover from illness that I believe was brought about by my dinner on Saturday night. Let this be a lesson to everyone--no matter how nice the restaurant that you're at is, if you're in Milwaukee in December, it' s probably not a good idea to order a dish containing massive amounts of shellfish.

Back tomorrow, once I've had a chance to re-introduce my body to liquids.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Wisconsin vs. UWM: Exactly What I Expected

Life’s busy these days, so I Tivo’d last night’s Wisconsin-UWM game, and got pretty much what I expected when I flipped it on an hour and a half late. Good night for Wisconsin and not a terrible night for UWM, though I’m still itching to see the Panthers improve. But I always want the Badger win in this one, so the Panthers can improve on someone else’s time. Game thoughts below:

1) Does anyone know exactly why this game was being broadcast on Sportsnet New York? I know that Wisconsin draws a lot of students from the east coast, but is there really a huge market in New York for two Wisconsin teams playing one another? As usual, I’m probably missing a really obvious point, but it still seemed like an odd channel to pick up the game.

2) When I saw that legendary former Badger point guard Mike Kelley was the color commentator for the game last night, I braced myself for a rough night. Though Kelley was pure fun (in a weird, Dick Bennett way) to watch on the court during my college years, he tends to be a bit wordy when you get him behind the microphone. While he still had some slight issues with making his points quickly, he’s slightly improved, and more importantly, made some solid points that I would have otherwise missed (though they were probably obvious enough that I shouldn’t have). The most interesting point that Kelley made was that one of the things that makes Alando Tucker difficult to guard is that he always seems to have his body facing a different direction when he sets himself to shoot in and around the lane, and then squares up when he’s in the air. Honestly, I had never really paid attention to that, and this does sort of explain why Tucker has such a unique look to him when he’s pouring in 6-footers from the lane.

3) Best exchange of the night between play-by-play man Craig Coshun and Kelley came after Jason Chappell tossed in a difficult layup during the "roll" portion of a well-executed screen and roll:

Coshun: I was ooing and ahhing over a potential Jordan move!

Kelley: (Dryly) Well, let’s not get carried away.

4) Since the first time I ever saw him, I’ve been trying to figure out who Marcus Skinner looks like. Last night it hit me–with his hair pulled back as it is, he looks vaguely like the freshman on Beverly Hills 90210 who Steve Sanders coerced into changing his grades with a computer back when the gang was all still in high school. There’s probably only 2-3 people who have any idea what I’m talking about, but you can’t tell me that I’m wrong on this one.

5) Rough night for Sam Mauldin, and correspondingly, rough night for UWM in the post. Don’t get me wrong–I don’t exactly think that Mauldin is a world-beater, but him managing to pick up his third foul with about seven minutes to go in the first half, and then his fourth foul not much more than 30 seconds into the second half was not a good thing for UWM. When you’re playing a team with three guys hovering around seven feet, you’d kind of like to have your only player bigger than 6'7" available.

6) Am I the only one who has a tough time getting Sam Mauldin’s name right because I keep thinking of Sammy Maudlin, Eugene Levy’s old SCTV character? And no, I’m not quite sure why someone my age knows anything about SCTV either.

7) As always often occurs during a game involving UWM, reference was made to Rob Jeter’s recruiting prowess. I can’t say that any of the reports of Jeter being a great recruiter surprise me, as it is pretty apparent that he works hard at it. Of all the recognizable division one coaches in the state, Jeter is by far the guy that I’ve seen most often at high school games that I’m at. Fortunately, it was a rarity that I ever got to see Jeter’s predecessor, Bruce Pearl, sitting at games, as he seems to be developing quite a reputation for causing disturbances at high school contests.

8) I sincerely hope that Brian Butch is not injured, but with his "slow to get up" moment late in the game, I again found myself yelling at my TV about how much it annoys me that Butch always seems to be the guy that can’t pick himself up off the ground and quietly shake off the small dings that occur during a game. Other than that, I was pleased that Butch had a very efficient game (confirmed by my friend Beau’s 4.20 efficiency rating for Butch last night).

9) Congrats to Michael Flowers who, though just a junior, last night became the NCAA all-time leader in lost contact lenses during play. Good work, Michael..

10) As I’ve officially declared to several of my friends, I still think that UWM will be a fairly decent team by the end of the year. Starting the year 2-10 isn’t exactly what I expected, but the Panthers are starting to look more and more like they know what they’re doing every day. And I actually don’t hate their talent. Paige Paulson, Kevin Massiah, and Marcus Skinner are going to be a nice frontcourt, come February. And while the guards by and large aren’t living up to their expectations, I still think that this team will gel and will be a tough out by the end of the season. At least a guy can hope, right?

Post game, I tried to flip on my recording of the Louisville-UMass game, but thought better of it and went to bed. After two nights completely devoid of televised basketball, I didn’t want to over-do it. The hoops season is too young for me to start buring myself out.

Just a warning–I may be taking an early weekend and skipping tomorrow’s update, as this evening I’ll be hanging out with a friend who’s moving out of town. And you know how those send-off events can eat up time without you even realizing it...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Marquette vs. Sussex Hamilton: Finally, Someone's Playing Basketball

With yet another night totally devoid of televised basketball, I decided that it was time to head on out to see a random high school basketball game tonight. Three games came to mind. I decided against Pius at Hartland Arrowhead because with Pius’ proximity to my home, I don’t want to wear out the allure of seeing them too early in the year. Milwaukee Lutheran at Homestead looked to me to be easily the best game of the night, but I wasn’t in the mood to make the trek out to Mequon. So by process of elimination, I ended up at Marquette High to watch the Hilltoppers play host to Sussex Hamilton, a game that was intriguing for reasons that will become clear with my first point below:

1) The key word with Sussex Hamilton this year is "freshmen." I’m not sure if the rest of the school isn’t all that interested in playing basketball, or if the freshman class at Hamilton is just uniquely talented, but ninth graders seem to be overwhelming the whole program. The roster sheet listed four freshmen (two of whom who start) on the varsity squad, and seven freshmen on the ten-player JV roster. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen anything like that at a school of Hamilton’s size.

2) Sussex Hamilton plays in the Greater Metro Conference, and its placement in that conference has always left me mildly perplexed. It’s confusing enough that a school that lies in an outlying part of Waukesha County could be in a conference that has the word "metro" in the name and consists primarily of schools in suburbs on the near west side of Milwaukee. However, the grouping of Sussex Hamilton with these schools is further confusing when one considers that there’s a Milwaukee Hamilton High School actually located in the city of Milwaukee. Sussex Hamilton holds its own in the Greater Metro, but I can’t help but think that I’d have to stop and think a lot less about what school people mean when they just say "Hamilton" if Sussex Hamilton was grouped with the Waukesha schools.

3) Credit to Sussex Hamilton for getting a moderate-sized student section to the game to cheer their team on. As already noted, Sussex Hamilton is somewhat of a geographic outlier in its conference, and getting as many students as they did to make the 20-minute drive to the game on a school night was a nice touch, even if the section gets a bit of a thumbs-down for leaving the game with about 40 seconds left on the game clock.

4) When I saw him on Friday night against Tosa East, I had vaguely recalled liking something about Marquette guard Mario Falsetti when I saw him last season. Turns out, it’s not just his flashy name. He was tossing around impressive, heady assists all night against Hamilton.

5) Hamilton freshman Kameron Cerroni will be a guy to watch for Hamilton in the coming years. While it’s impressive for any freshman to even make the varsity squad, let alone start, Cerroni takes things one step further. He’s the point guard for the team, and along with senior Alex Carsky, he seems to be one of the team’s go-to guys. If you were to watch the game without a roster, you’d never pick him out as one of the freshmen. He’s looks physically mature enough to blend in with his upperclassmen teammates, and though there’s a few things he needs to learn still, it’s not as if he doesn’t have some time to do some learning. Should be a fun guy to watch (along with the oodles of other Sussex Hamilton freshmen) for the next few years. And oh yeah, despite a sort of odd looking shot, he was drilling threes last night without much trouble.

6) Big scoring nights for Marquette’s Terry Hollins, who seemed to have an endless number of steals for breakaway layups in the second half, and David Grzesiak, Marquette’s big gun, whose teammates kept finding him as he streaked down the lane. Behind these two guys, Marquette extended their four point halftime lead to 25 at one point in their stellar second half.

7) Sussex Hamilton has a guy on its roster who’s 6'0" tall, and is listed as a Forward/Center. He gave them some nice minutes last night, did a nice job of banging with guys in the lane on defense, and looked like he was probably a starting guard for the football team or something. I guess you could make a case that these traits would make it appropriate to call him a center, but given that he’s 6'0", could we maybe just call him a forward so as not to make it look weird? I think the absolute smallest that you can go with the center designation in high school without it being a complete stretch is 6'3", and that’s still a mighty small center.

8) While the game was all but over with about four minutes to go, I stuck around until the end for two reasons. One, the small, makeshift student section that had formed for Marquette in the second half began exchanging chants with the Hamilton students, and you never know where that’s going to go (though it didn’t go anywhere all that interesting last night). Two, it’s always sort of fun to see grinning bench-warmers get into the game at the end (and indeed, it was fun).

All around, even though I was mainly just heading out to watch a game because there were no interesting college games on TV, it was a surprisingly fun night to watch a high school game. I got to see some future stars for Sussex Hamilton, and I got to see Marquette recover mightily from dropping its first game of the season to its rival. Though it wasn’t exactly a must-see game, I’m sure glad that I saw it, and I believe that most people in attendance had the same feeling.

Back tomorrow with my thoughts on the Wisconsin vs. UWM game. I’ve been derelict about watching UWM games of late, due to some scheduling conflicts, but I still believe that they’re going to be a much tougher team late in the season. Unfortunately, I don’t get the impression that they’re there yet, and this could be a rough night for the Panthers.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Forced Night Off

Was yesterday a national holiday for everyone playing basketball? None of the big state teams were playing, I couldn’t find a game on ESPN or any of the other 800 sports channels that I looked through, and even the local division three teams were idle (though the division three thing didn’t hurt too much, since a standing Monday night commitment keeps me from going to Monday games, anyway). It was like a conspiracy to keep me from watching basketball. I can’t think of a night quite like this in the last two years.

So, instead of watching games last night (save for a bit of my recording of the Marquette-Wisconsin broadcast, just to get a fix), I flipped on the most fascinating channel in the history of mankind, Discovery Health, where they were taking a break from their usual programming about morbidly obese people and showing a feature entitled "My Skin Could Kill Me." You’ve got to savor those nights off.

With those pesky exams limiting the amount of college basketball available for consumption, it looks like I’ll probably find myself at a high school game tonight, or perhaps breaking down an episode of The White Shadow. Either way, I’ll be back tomorrow. In the meantime, here are two links for your reading pleasure today:

1) During the build up to Saturday’s big game, I was directed to the blog of former Marquette star, and current Marquette radio color commentator Jim McIlvaine. Though some of my Wisconsin friends took mild offense at McIlvaine’s December 8th entry regarding manipulation of stats for media guides, I take the opinion that although he focused on absurd things from the Wisconsin media guide, it was okay because a) he clearly pointed out that most schools do the same sort of thing, b) he was right about everything that he said and c) it was an entertaining piece of writing. McIlvaine seems like the kind of guy you’d like to hang out with. And that’s why you should read about what’s on his mind.

2) I’m not much of a baseball fan these days, but up until about the age of 9 or 10, baseball was to me what basketball is today. So I can truly appreciate this brilliant Joe Sports Fan piece breaking down what it would cost to pay the 1986 Mets in 2006 dollars.

Back tomorrow with something or other...

Monday, December 11, 2006

Wisconsin vs. Marquette: Rivalry At Its Peak

My day on Saturday began at a pub where I was shuttling between my Badger fan group, some of whom had traveled from Madison for the game, and the guys that I sit with at Marquette games. I was hanging out with each party in 15-minute spurts. It was almost too much stimulation for me, having that many important basketball fans in one room. And after weeks of anticipation, it had finally come–my favorite game of the year, played by two of my favorite teams. Who doesn’t love rivalries? Here are the final notes from my weekend of Marquette hate:

1) Prior to the start of the game, when I met up with my friends at the bar, I was mildly surprised at the number of Wisconsin fans there. I had figured that most of them were probably staking claims to good seating for watching the game on TV, since Marquette has taken various measures to make it tough for opposing fans to get into the games. Back in 2004, it was a pretty lonely day to be a Wisconsin fan at the Bradley Center. This year, to my surprise, a pretty good number of Wisconsin fans made it into the building. While it was still clearly Marquette’s home court, there was a heck of a lot more red in the upper deck than I had been counting on. (A quick thumbs-down here, to my friend Curl, a Badger fan who wore neutral colors in order to avoid harassment from Marquette fans during the game.) And a few nice chants, to boot.

2) For as much rabid dislike between coaches, players and fans that this rivalry seems to produce, I’m happy to say that I saw nothing but very cordial interaction between opposing fans during my entire time at the game and downtown. Lots of joking and fun was had by all, and despite my bright red fleece in a predominantly gold section, nothing more than playful harassment was thrown my way (it may have helped my street cred that I attended the game with three guys decked out in gold). You always seem to hear about all of the bad things that happen when passionate fans clash, but what gets lost in those stories is that 98% of people see the game for what it is, and have a good time with it. Even if your team doesn’t perform as you’d like, it’s still possible to have a good time joking around with other fans.

3) So much for that big game from Brian Butch that I was hoping for. His two point, three rebound performance actually gave something for my Marquette fan friends to use to get under my skin after the game. My friend Greg was on the verge of getting me worked up while running Butch down, when I finally took a step back and realized that a) Greg’s one of those guys that it just never pays to get into an argument with, and b) regardless of what Butch did in this one game, Wisconsin still won.

4) Rough night for Butch, but at least the Marcus Landry that I’ve been waiting all year for showed up. And I'm out of ways to say that Alando Tucker's great, so I'll just stop trying.

5) Capacity for the Bradley Center is listed at 18,600. Attendance at the game was announced at 19,020. Despite this game going beyond a sell-out, my friends and I were fortunate enough to sit in an area where there was one empty seat to our right, and two empty seats right in front of us. Now that’s comfort.

6) I know that prior to the game, I had expressed some concern about how much Marquette would be able to run on Wisconsin and work their full-court press. I knew that the Golden Eagles wouldn’t have the stamina to pull off pressing the entire game, but I sure didn’t think that they would all but abandon it. Moreover, it was almost mildly insulting to the suppressed Marquette fan dwelling inside me that when they finally did break out the press in the final minute when the game was all but decided, it worked marvelously and forced a five-second violation.

7) I was actually sort of impressed at the restraint that Bo Ryan and Tom Crean showed in not using Jason Bohannon and Lawrence Blackledge, respectively. Both are two of the more intriguing newcomers for their teams this year, and Bohannon is actually a big part of the Badger rotation. Given Bohannon’s usual role, and Blackledge’s tantalizing ability to make athletic plays that would draw the crowd into the game (not to mention that the other big men for Marquette were very ineffective on Saturday), both would have been tempting to use. But I think both coaches were right in deciding that this game wasn’t tailored to their particular skills.

8) On the flip side of Bohannon and Blackledge, where the heck did Trevon Hughes come from? I had not been overly impressed by his play prior to Saturday, but he was rock solid in his first taste of major minutes for the Badgers. He appears to be a bit flashier and prone to attempting the spectacular than the average Bo Ryan player, but if he keeps playing the way that he did on Saturday, you’d have to think that Ryan will have to give Hughes a little more freedom than the average Badger during his tenure in Madison.

9) There was no musical chairs contest at halftime, though I must thank my friend Dave for buying me an unrequested beer when he went to buy one for himself, showing once and for all that Marquette and Wisconsin fans can be friends. Oh, and the Bill Cords retirement ceremony that pre-empted the musical chairs contest was nothing special. While Cords has undoubtedly done quite a few excellent things during his tenure as Marquette’s athletic director, and deserves much respect for his 20 years of service, he’s not exactly what you’d call a dynamic speaker.

10) Kudos to the young woman from the Marquette student section who was chosen to try and make a halfcourt shot to win an RV and threw the ball as if she was inbounding a soccer ball. Few people know their strength limitations when taking the halfcourt shot, and even though the young woman didn’t hit the basket, you have to respect her for knowing her that she wasn’t strong enough to make a normal shot, ditching standard shooting technique, and giving herself a fighting chance by shooting a line-drive at the hoop.

11) It’s funny how a team losing can cloud your thoughts. If you were to ask me about how the players for Marquette played yesterday, I’d have told you that Dominic James had an excellent second half, Wesley Matthews had a rough day on defense, Jerel McNeal had an all around tough day, and no one outside of the big three had a notable day. While there’s little arguing over the first two points, McNeal had 16 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists, which objectively, are pretty good numbers. And Lazar Hayward quietly put up 10 points and 8 rebounds, which I never would have known had I not looked at a box score. The game plan may not have been great, but the players do seem to have performed to the best of their abilities.

12) The best part of the game from my red-tinted perspective? After about the 8-minute timeout in the second half, both teams started playing their best ball, and the crowd really started getting into things. Marquette was scoring big buckets left and right, but Wisconsin leaned on their biggest strength, and simply stayed calm as they got the ball back. As a result, they kept answering Marquette with possessions that lasted 30 seconds and ended with spirit-crushing scores. Seeing Wisconsin look that experienced, calm and methodical on the road against a charging rival with a hostile crowd made me feel very good about the season. The Badgers might not win every game, but I can’t think of a lot of teams that they won’t be able to play with.

And with the end of the game, I held my head proudly as I walked out the door with my three Marquette friends and discussed why the game had played out as it did. Sadly, I had to let the glory of the victory go quickly, as I was headed out for a night at the theatre with some friends for the most metrosexual guys’ night ever. But the joy of a Marquette win won’t wear off completely at least until next year, when I’m getting nervous right before game time again...

Marquette High vs. Tosa East: Rivalry Appetizer

Friday night was the first installment of the two annual regular-season meetings between Marquette High School and Wauwatosa East, two of the most bitter area rivals in terms of athletics. As a Tosa East man, myself, I’ve always enjoyed these games. During my high school days many, many moons ago, Marquette and Tosa East didn’t ever play one another, since public and private schools playing one another was a much more seldom occurrence back when each had a separate governing body. But even back then, the rivalry seemed natural as ever, even if the actual teams never got to meet up. When you’ve got two schools with a number of students who come from the same neighborhoods, and two great basketball teams, it’s always going to be a fun time. And I’m always glad that this game can happen nowadays. Game notes below:

1) When Marquette came out for the final few minutes of warm-ups after removing their warm-up pants, they revealed that they were wearing black socks of various lengths, pulled up as high as they would go. It wasn’t a good look. And while a team looking essentially like they decided to play in dress socks is inherently ridiculous, it’s even more ridiculous when the team doing this is from one of the most elite private schools in the Milwaukee area. Most of these guys are going to be wearing black socks to their respective office jobs for the bulk of their lives, so you’d have to think that they’d enjoy the opportunity to wear some white sweat socks during a youthful game of basketball.

2) Have I mentioned before that I love the Al McGuire Center for watching high school basketball games? Sure, the court’s a little bit bigger than during a usual high school basketball game, and it had to be a bit jarring for Tosa East to play a home game on a court that had their opponent’s name on it (even if the "Marquette" on the court was referring to a different entity), but for big games, there’s no better place for fans. Walking in somewhat later during warm-ups, my friends and I still found seats in the upper deck, at exactly halfcourt (I was straddling the center court line). You can’t beat that, and again, I’m totally jazzed that not one, but two Milwaukee sectionals will be playing their finals at The Al in March.

3) One of the things that bothered me about last year’s meeting between these two teams at the McGuire Center was fixed this year. In the second half, each of the teams was shooting into its opponent’s student section, making foul shot and general heckling much more possible.

4) For two student sections that have always seemed to come up with some of the best cheers around, it was a pretty vanilla night. In defense of the sections, the one drawback to the McGuire Center is that the seating configuration keeps the students far apart, making it tough for them to play off of one another. However, there were some blatant bad fanning techniques pulled out in this game, including Tosa East’s second quarter "Scoreboard" chant (loudly pointing out that you’re up when there’s 20 minutes of game left to be played often comes back to bite you in a really embarrassing way) and Marquette’s "Let’s Play Football Chant" while there was still game to be played (a great way to throw your basketball team under the bus before the final score is certain).

5) Compared to previous games in the Marquette-Tosa East rivalry, this one felt slightly off. Part of it might have to do with the fact that Marquette has gone 1-7 in the series since the 2003-4 season. But the bigger issue is probably the lack of obvious division one talent on either team. Over the last several years, names like Smith, Pease, Mulcahy, Hanson, Harris, Merritt and Grunst have graced the scorebooks. A run like that will spoil you, and that’s why, even though there’s plenty of talent on the current rosters, the lack of a jaw-dropping athlete sort of dulls the impact of the game.

6) In all the rankings and discussions that I’ve heard about Tosa East, I figured that they’d be good. What I forgot to think about is the fact that they’re really, really small. And when I say this, I mean that they’re small on a totally different level than any other good team that I’ve seen before. Milwaukee Vincent, for example, has had several teams where they don’t have anyone much bigger than 6'5" (see this year’s Vincent team, actually). The most entertaining Tosa East team that I watched during my youth played a 6'3" guy at center. The current Tosa East team takes the lack of big people even further by giving significant minutes to five guys under six feet tall. It’s not rare to see no one bigger than 6'2" on the floor for the Raiders. Lucky for them, they’re experienced, smart, and well-coached. Their third-quarter defense was clear evidence of this. They should mow through lesser competition, but watch out for any teams with size that they may play as tournament time comes around.

Even though the excitement and atmosphere wasn’t up to its usual level, I’ll always take a rivalry win for my side, and so I left the McGuire Center happy. More than that, though, I was excited to rest up, and hopefully see an even better game the next day. It’s pretty rare that I’m rooting for the usual inhabitants of the Al McGuire Center to lose, but that’s what would be happening the next day.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Rivalry Weekend

Rivalry weekend is back. For some reason, it always seems like the Marquette-Wisconsin game happens on the same weekend that Wauwatosa East (the school that I attended seemingly centuries ago) meets with Marquette University High School. There are probably the two local rivalries that I’m most interested in, so this is one of the most exciting weekends of the year for me. It is also the weekend that I’m required by my education history to hate everything named "Marquette." I’ll refrain from commenting on the high school game until afterwards, as I’ve seen neither team play this year, but a few words on the college game are a necessity.

Lots of places are going to do a player-by-player breakdown, and I hate being like everyone else. Instead, since lots of good things come in fours, here’s four lists of four-game related points:

The Four Places I Wouldn’t Want To Be Saturday Afternoon

Major Goolsby’s: I vacillate on how I feel about Goolsby’s. It is over-hyped, has terrible, greasy food, and gets way too crowded for an event like the Marquette-Wisconsin game. Despite all this, it’s tough to hate a place that doesn’t appear to have updated its decor since 1984, and where you can get an old style. On Saturday, though, I’d rather find myself in a place where I can move my arms without knocking a drink out of someone’s hands.

Front of Marquette Student Section: Granted, game time is going to be about the most excellent two hours ever, but the wait beforehand for the first come first serve will be brutal. On the bright side, the temperatures are supposed to get back up into the 30s this weekend, so it will be a bit warmer than it is now. Either way, though, take it from a man who, in his teen years, once stood for hours in sub-zero temperatures to get first row seats to a high school regional game–the game’s not as much fun when you can’t feel your toes for the first three-quarters of the game.

Bradley Center Parking Ramp: Have fun in the gridlock after the game. I’ll be walking two blocks to the lot where I parked for half the price you did. And I’ll be getting out of downtown a lot quicker.

Marquette Sports Annex: Name me one place that screams "I’m a fan, but not a big enough fan to go to the game" more than this place on Saturday afternoon.

Four Keys To the Game

Rebounding: Sure, this could be a key to any game, but it will be magnified in this one. As the Big Ten Wonk (who's got a sweet preview of the game, but the way) will tell you, Wisconsin cleans the defensive boards as well as anyone. Marquette’s revolving cache of big men over the past is generally explained by Tom Crean saying that he was just looking for someone who could rebound. Marquette’s been getting tons of second and third chances in its last few games. Stop those, and chances are that you’ll stop Marquette.

Stamina: During Marquette’s game against Delaware State, as Marquette started full-court pressing the Hornets, I overheard my friend Greg say that he wanted to see the Golden Eagles do that to Wisconsin for 40 straight minutes. Obviously, if they tried that, Dominic James would be getting his signature cramps by halftime, and Lazar Hayward might pass out. But the Golden Eagles have the opportunity to force oodles of turnovers if they press the Badgers, whose guards, all for different reasons, are susceptible to pressure. They have to figure out how far they can push themselves, though, because while they need to force turnovers, running out of gas against a team that goes 10-deep with almost no drop-off is a bad idea.

Refs: The tighter the refs call this one, the larger the foul differential will favor Wisconsin, who always seems to come out on top in fouls. I never like invoking refs in discussing how a game will go, but it’s pretty clear to me that they’ll have an exaggerated role in setting the tempo and deciding the outcome of this clash of teams with polar opposite styles.

Patience: Wisconsin is at its scariest when it is methodically cutting people apart, which they’ve done almost without interruption, with the exception of the Missouri State game. Marquette’s pressure is sure to give them problems for at least a bit. Can Wisconsin, even when it gets down a few points (as they undoubtedly will), maintain its frightening composure and keep cutting away that the Golden Eagles? If they can, it’s going to be a long day for Marquette. If not, well, you know what happened to the Badgers against Missouri State.

Four Things I That Hope Occur

1) A Stellar Statistical Night From Brian Butch
--His weakness around the hoop and goofy facial expressions make him hard for me to consistently defend in arguments. Nonetheless, it does get tiring listen to my Marquette buddies run him down day in and day out. Being able to reference an afternoon when he had 18 points and 11 rebounds would really help my cause in barroom arguments.

2) I Win the Halftime Musical Chairs Beer Bet With My Friends
–It’s not so much that I want a beer. Rather, I just want to force one of my three Marquette-fan friends to suffer the shame of having to fetch concessions for the one guy they’re with that’s wearing red.

3) I Arrive Early Enough To See the Tom Crean Taped Pregame Speech on Jumbotron
–These are always priceless, but Saturday’s has the potential to be one of the best ever, given how big the game is. Here’ the official list of things that I expect to be referenced in the talk: the need to feed off of crowd energy, the dedication of fans for leaving the house on a cold day, the word "awesome," a random alumnus that deserves recognition...

4) Dominic James Tosses Down a Reverse Dunk
–Yeah, I’m pulling for Wisconsin, but seeing a 5'11" freak of nature throw down reverse dunks is cool enough that it transcends the rivalry. No, I don’t want him to throw down 15 of them, but a taste of scary athleticism, even from the opponent, is always welcome.

Four Surprising Statements From Me

Marquette won’t win this game by running. See point number 2 of my "Four Keys to the Game" section. Marquette will get a few points by running, but they just don’t have the legs to run all game, which is okay, because no one could keep that up for 40 minutes. The halfcourt game is going to be just as important to the Golden Eagles, which can be a scary proposition if they're not firing on all cylindars.

As a Badger fan, I don’t care who guards Dominic James. James will be arguably the best player on the floor on Saturday. Michael Flowers is probably the Badgers’ best defender. Normally, I’d love to see him guarding James. With Marquette, though, Jerel McNeal is every bit as good, if not better, than James at penetrating. Do you want your best defender on the best player or the best penetrator? I’ll take either, or more likely, some combination of both. As long as Flowers is out there a lot, I don’t care.

Tom Crean scares the hell out of me this game. Normally, Tom Crean is a formidable coach, right up until he has to start making game-time decisions. Watching him draw up plays out of time-outs is painful, and he just doesn’t seem great at thinking on the fly. That said, his team will be jacked, and anyone who could successfully execute a plan as insane as his let’s-put-the-most-unathletic-big-man-we-have-on-Alando-Tucker plan that worked beautifully two years ago is someone you don’t want to mess with. If a guy’s crazy enough to put Chris Grimm on the opposing team’s best player, do you really want to risk setting him off?

I have no idea how this game will turn out. I’ve never fancied myself a basketball expert, and both of these two teams are too good for me to make a call on the outcome. Anyone who makes a definitive prediction on this game just doesn't know what they're talking about.

Enjoy the game on Saturday, and say "hello" if you see me. I’ll be one of the guys in red that everyone in section 209 is giving dirty looks to.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Letting Others Do The Work For Me...

Last night, after completing every annoying personal chore that I had vowed to complete, I finally plunked myself down to check out the Duke-Holy Cross game that I had been Tivo-ing. Unfortuantely, about two minutes into relaxing and watching the game, I noticed how ridiculously cold it was in my living room, and eventually spent my night freaking out about how I couldn't get my furnace to work, rather than enjoying the play of Greg Paulus and company (or Bruce Pearl's Tennessee team beating the tar out of Memphis, for that matter). As a result, I wasn't going to give an update today. But, in a lucky turn of events, two of my friends happened to send me excellent emails regarding the Marquette-Wisconsin game. So sit back, as I let my friends Brian and Beau do the work for me.

First, Brian does a detailed breakdown of the Marquette and Wisconsin programs:

Over the past couple of weeks, a number of people have sought out my seasoned analysis of what could be arguably the most anticipated game between two storied rivals, Wisconsin and Marquette. In an exhaustive search of my memory banks, I could not uncover a prior occasion on which these two teams entered their matchup legitimately ranked this high, making this weekend's latest chapter in their long history, a "game for the ages," if I may be so bold as to quote the eternally hokey Jim Nantz. Each time the question was posited to me, "Who will win, Marquette or Wisconsin?," I deferred such inquiries, with the intention of conducting a comprehensive and thorough examination of every detail that will, no doubt, determine the outcome. Having now reviewed an incalculable volume of pages, broken down every conceivable angle, and considered every minute force that might influence Saturday's clash of the in-state powers, I now provide my tale of the tape for Marquette vs. Wisconsin:

1. Tradition.
National championships: Marquette: 1 (1977); Wisconsin: 1 (1941). Series: Wisconsin leads 60-51. Legendary coaches: Marquette - Al McGuire; Wisconsin - Dick Bennett. Final Fours: Marquette 3, Wisconsin: 2. Marquette once turned down the NCAA to play in the NIT tournament. Wisconsin once went 40 years without a post-season tournament appearance. Edge: Marquette.

2. Facilities.
Marquette plays at the Bradley Center, an 18,000 seat arena, which, during many games allows fans to communicate by echo, but becomes crazed bedlam when the big boys come to town. Wisconsin plays at the Kohl Center, a 17,000 seat arena that constantly sells out, requires a season ticket (and a $500 donation) just to get in, and contains a charged atmosphere that intimidates opponents (see Wisconsin's 78-5 home record in the past five years).
Marquette - savvy basketball connoisseurs who don't want to waste money on pointless games or just big spenders who throw too many parties that no one comes to? Wisconsin - rabid, faithful fans who enjoy the poetry of the swing offense or country bumpkins hosed by a greedy athletic department? Edge: Wisconsin.

3. Spirit.
Marquette has an unimaginative band that seems to only know how to play a boring rouser repeatedly, thinks that two giant inflatable stick figures and a rigged decibel measurement instrument shooting confetti actually induce crowd noise, and when offered money to return to its old nickname, the "Warriors," instead adopted "Gold." Wisconsin has a fight song widely considered one of the top fight songs in the country, an energetic and creative band, and Bucky Badger.
Bucky Badger vs. the inflatable stick figure in a fight? Edge: Wisconsin.

4. Famous graduates.
Marquette has Chris Farley, Steve Rushin, and the Incomparable Hildegarde. Wisconsin has Stephen Ambrose, Greta Van Susteren, and the Zucker brothers.
How do you beat the "Incomparable Hildegarde?" Edge: Marquette.

5. Coaching.
Marquette has Tom Crean, the master of the NBA set, motivator extraordinaire, and the unfrozen caveman coach. Wisconsin has Bo Ryan, creator of the swing offense, winner of over 500 collegiate games, and when in a red blazer, looks like a used car salesman.
Now, Tom Crean might not know anything about "game adjustments" or "bench coaching," but he does know that if Jerel McNeal drives in the lane and is breathed on by an opposing defender, he is entitled to no less than two foul shots. Edge: push.

6. Alumni Relations.
Marquette has retired several numbers, including No. 24 worn by all-time leading scorer George Thompson, and then allowed new recruits to wear the same numbers, meekly claiming it retires "jerseys," not numbers. Wisconsin doesn't have any retired numbers.
Better not to retire, then to "re-gift" retired numbers to new players. Edge: Wisconsin.

So there you have it. Wisconsin 3-2. When you break it all down, it really is just scientific. On Wisconsin.

Thanks for that outstanding analysis, Brian. It was definitely better than I could have said it. On to Beau's contribution...

After just about every Marquette and Wisconsin game, my friend Beau sends me his statistical analysis of each team's players, summarized in two numbers that he refers to as the "Value Rating" and the "Efficienty Rating." These numbers have only been loosley explained to me and I have no clear understanding of how they are derived, no do I necessarily wish to. You see, Beau's an engineer, and since I've never been a stat-head, I don't know that I necessarily want to try to follow the calculations of a good engineer. He's welcome to explain them in comments below, or pass along a detailed formula to me, which I'll in turn provide to you in a later post. Nonetheless, here's Beau's top five to date for each team in each category:

Value Rating:

Alando Tucker: 10.32
Michael Flowers: 9.21
Brian Butch: 8.21
Joe Krabbenhoft: 8.13
Jason Chappell: 6.22

Dominic James: 9.57
Jerel McNeal: 9.03
Wesley Matthews: 8.90
Ousmane Barro: 8.67
Dan Fitzgerald: 6.23

Efficiency Rating

Alando Tucker: 4.42
Brian Butch: 2.55
Michael Flowers: .96
Joe Krabbenhoft: .83
Kammron Taylor: .77

Dominic James: 3.02
Jerel McNeal: 1.97
Wesley Matthews: 1.39
Ousmane Barro: .77
Lazar Hayward: .73

(For some historical perspective, the highest full-season efficiency rating in the last 10 years at Wisconsin is held by Devin Harris, who posted a 3.43 a few years back)

Based on all of this data, Beau tells me that he favors Marquette by 1.5 points. Putting the stats aside, though Beau predicts both Marquette winning by 4 points and Wisconsin winning by 8 points. Yep, like the rest of us, he has no idea how things are going to go.

Back tomorrow with some final thoughts before the big game. Assuming that I get my home heated, they may even be my own thoughts.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Marquette vs. Delaware State: Precursor to the Big Game

Last night, after some travel difficulties, I made it down to the Marquette-Delaware State game. To be honest, it wasn’t one of the more entertaining games in memory. Sure, Delaware State was decent enough, and Marquette’s loss to North Dakota State created some tension heading into the game, but even when Delaware State was keeping things close in the first half, I had this overriding feeling that they’d eventually wear down and knuckle under. It was probably the workman-like win that Marquette needed following the NDSU game, but with plenty of failures to connect on their signature alley-oops, the Golden Eagles weren’t their normal high-flying, excitement-inducing selves. But the effort will lead them nicely into the Wisconsin game, nonetheless.

1) There are few things that I like less than making it to a game late. Last night, though, I was really pushing it, making it to my seat about 15 seconds prior to tip. My near tardiness was due to the latest round of changes to the Milwaukee freeway system that are currently going on. I’m not sure if I absent-mindedly missed my exit last night (hey, it’s happened before), or if my usual exit for games was wiped off the face of the earth. So I had to back-track a bit through downtown in order to get to the Bradley Center. Lucky for me it’s winter time, otherwise the people running the city likely would have closed off 2-3 side streets for construction in order to impede my progress more.

2) I know that many big time programs wear similar uniforms provided to them by official sponsor, but it wouldn’t seem that Delaware State would be in the mix for this. That’s why it was so confusing to see the Hornets wearing what appeared to be Arizona’s uniforms last night.

3) I’m not sure whether I find the announcer for Marquette games annoying, or so unintentionally funny that he’s entertaining. He’s the most fired up guy in the building, and his overzealous nature bubbled over several times last night. First there was a line that he snarls once almost every game: "The rock belongs to Marquette!" No public address announcer should refer to a basketball as "the rock" unless he’s working for And1. Maybe my favorite moment of the night, however was when the announcer gave the crowd his most excited "Marquette ball!" after one play where the ball went out of bounds in the first half. It’s great to be excited that your team has the ball, but when they’ve received possession because someone just blocked their shot out of bounds, it’s probably good form to dial it down.

4) Marquette broke out the home white uniforms last night, which I’m not sure that I’ve seen before, since they’ve gone gold for the rest of the season. I liked the whites, not only because they’re one of the more classic-looking uniforms out there, but because the shirts that some players wear under their uniforms actually matched up last night. I still hate seeing players allowed to wear white shirts under gold uniforms. It makes no sense to me.

5) Nice start to the game for Wesley Matthews, who scored 10 points seemingly before I had a chance to put my coat down. I’m thinking that he’s going to be ramping things up for the Wisconsin game. Matthews is my favorite Marquette player, in large part because in the stories that I’ve heard about him, he’s totally bought into Marquette, and seems to have as one of his goals doing everything that he can to take down Wisconsin. While I’m first and foremost a Wisconsin fan, I can’t help but respect his dedication to his cause.

6) Usually this is about the time of year that I start to rip Tom Crean for not settling on any sort of consistent rotation. However, this year, I’d like to praise Tom Crean for actually coming up with a consistent rotation. Sure, there are little differences here and there (giving Dan Fitzgerald the start of Jamil Lott last night, for example), but they’re few and far between. And those changes that Tom Crean does make don’t seem to be him just throwing things out and seeing what sticks, as they have in the past. There’s an actual purpose to his moves. Sure, the Golden Eagles might be going 10-deep right now, but you can actually see why. And that’s new territory for Marquette.

7) Two new wrinkles were added to the halftime musical chairs game, and I think both were big improvements. First, the two finalists in the game now have to ride neon green big-wheels to the hoop before making their respective layups, rather than simply running down as they have in the past. This not only has the purpose of ending the injury-waiting-to-happen that occurred almost every game when the two finalists would ram into each other at the chair sitting at halfcourt, but it also makes a couple of college students look goofy, which is always fun. The second innovation was the addition of a new rule to the "gambling for beer" game that my friends and I play, whereby if your chosen contestant not only is the last man standing of our chosen contestants, but also wins the entire competition, you get an upgrade from the regular size beer to the large. Who says you can’t improve on a good thing?

8) Maybe the most entertaining moment of the night for me came as I was walking to the car and checked the voice mail on my cell phone. Early in the game I had received a call from a Madison-area number that I didn’t recognize. Since I’m not one to use my phone while I’m watching a game, I put it away and decided I’d check my messages later. Turns out I had a message from Wisconsin’s Joe Krabbenhoft, reading a canned message thanking me for being a Wisconsin donor. On one hand, it was really cool that of the hundreds of Wisconsin athletes that potentially could have been forced to offer a thank-you for my meager donation, I managed to get a call from arguably my favorite player on my favorite team. On the other hand, I’m really glad I didn’t pick up at the game, since I feel like it would have been bad form to take a call from Joe Krabbenhoft during the week of the Wisconsin-Marquette game, and end up cutting him off because I’m at a Marquette game. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that the Wisconsin athletic department was trying to guilt me into ending my Marquette fandom...

And with the final precursor to the Wisconsin-Marquette matchup out of the way, I’m ready to focus on the weekend’s big game. Unfortunately for the guys that I sit with, this means that I’m also morally obligated to hate them and everything about Marquette until roughly 5:15pm on Saturday. But despite the hate, it should be a fun rest of the week. And in the meantime, I’ll fill it with things like last night’s Arizona-Louisville game, which was my post-gmae entertainment for the evening.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Kansas vs. USC: I'll Take What I Can Get

While I really would have loved to have seen the Wisconsin-Winthrop (Turns out that the solid Winthrop team that beat Marquette last year has almost everyone back. Who knew?) game last night, its presence on ESPN360 made that an impossibility. So after an appointment, I plunked myself down on my couch to watch Kansas take on USC. I only made it through the first half before falling asleep in front of the TV, something which is happening with greater regularity these days. I attribute this to two factors: 1) I am slowly turning into an old man, and 2) my new couch, in addition to making a statement that I am no longer a pathetic 28-year-old man whose primary piece of furniture is a futon, is really comfortable. So thoughts on the little of the game that I did see:

1) Seeing a game on TV that’s being played at Allen Fieldhouse is a lot less fun when it’s nighttime, as the unique lighting of the arena doesn’t occur as it does during a nice Saturday afternoon.

2) Last night’s game was a blessing in disguise. I tuned in largely to watch Kansas forward Darrell Arthur play, but due to foul trouble, he played 3 minutes in the first half. Normally, this would bug me, but I actually got to see the other guys on the floor, rather than fixating on one super-athletic guy as I wait for him to dunk.

3) For all the talk that I hear about Brandon Rush playing for Kansas, I was probably more blown away by Mario Chalmers last night. Maybe he was just having a good night, but Chalmers looked like a guy that can do a little bit of everything and do it well. From his quick hands on defense to his intelligent passing, last night he immediately leapt onto my list of favorite players to watch.

4) While watching the game last night, I glanced at my Blue Ribbon Yearbook and noticed that Brandon Rush, despite some initial concerns about eligibility, eventually made the Big 12 honor roll. Given that the paths of his similarly talented brothers JaRon and Kareem were littered with shady deals and bad choices, it’s nice to see the latest Rush phenom not only sticking around school longer than anticipated, but excelling while he’s there. I have to think that his brothers have played some role in Brandon’s ability to make good decisions. Seeing the failures of JaRon would have an affect on anyone, but additionally, everything that I’ve read about the Rush brothers seems to imply that they’re smart enough guys to see exactly where they went wrong in the past. While being smart enough to accurately pick apart your errors in life must be somewhat tormenting, at least it’s useful if you’ve got a brother to help out.

5) Heck of a game for USC guard Lodrick Stewart, who’s twin brother Rodrick is a little-used reserve for Kansas (after transferring from USC). That had to be a good feeling of revenge for Lodrick, after his parents gave his brother the real name, and him the made-up name in order to make them sound like a cute pair.

6) The Stewart brothers’ father was, predictably, shown several times by ESPN as he watched his opposing sons play. I don’t know if his father is involved in athletics somehow, but he looked like he was in tremendous shape, and could have been sitting with the Kansas City Chiefs shown earlier in the evening without anyone batting an eye. He certainly didn’t look like a guy who was old enough to have two 22-year-old sons.

7) Did good or bad Kansas show up last night? Actually, I think mediocre Kansas showed up. The Jayhawks didn’t suck, but they didn’t look like one of the top teams in the country (as they did against Florida) and at least in the half that I saw, it was a pretty sloppy game. (Had the Marquette statistician been working the game, there would have been a world record for number of deflections.)

Tonight it’s down to the Marquette-Delaware State game. Hopefully Marquette breaks the trend of it and Wisconsin trying to compile close games and losses to take the luster off of this weekend’s grudge match. After that, time permitting, I’m itching to see the Louisville-Arizona game on TV. Let’s hope I don’t pass out in front of the TV again...

Monday, December 04, 2006

My Weekend In Review

It was a busy weekend for me, which resulted in less hoops time than I had hoped. Nonetheless, from Marquette officially losing control over its own tournament, to the debut of Ohio State’s missing piece, here are the thoughts that ran through my head this weekend:

1) The one game that I made it to and saw in its entirety was Friday night’s opening game of the Blue and Gold Classic, Marquette vs. Northwestern State. You know, the one where the Golden Eagles played well. Though it’s sort of too late to give praise to the Golden Eagles, Ousmane Barro played so well on Friday night that I can’t help but give him props for his 21 points and 13 rebounds. Someone told me that in his post game show, Tom Crean said that if Barro had been looking for his shot, he’d have scored 30 points. I don’t know for sure whether Crean said that, but I would also add that if Barro’s hands had been a little better, he’d have had 18 rebounds. Nice work for a guy that came in as (and still is, to some extent) a project.

2) In order to jazz up halftime a bit, my friends and I started playing a simple game during the student musical chairs competition that typically takes place during the half. We each pick a contestant. The person who picked the contestant who lasts the longest wins a beer, to be purchased for him in the second half by the person who picks the earliest eliminated contestant. Aside from making halftime more fun (my friend Greg was cheering louder during musical chairs than he was during the game), this game proves that if you get four 20-something guys together, they can turn just about anything into a gambling event.

3) While Marquette should get some credit for success on the offensive glass on Friday night, those second or third chance points aren’t going to come as easy against teams not named North Dakota State. The lasting memory of the game will be watching Marquette miss a shot, the ball ping-ponging around for a bit, and a Golden Eagle player recovering for another chance. It’s not always that simple.

4) Last week I gave a thumbs-down to my ACC friend who skipped the Ohio State-North Carolina game, despite being offered tickets. Well, to his credit, he phoned me with a pretty good excuse this weekend that involved him being able to see even more basketball as a result of missing the game. And I’m afraid that I don’t have much of a comeback anymore anyway, since I missed the Terry Porter Classic (featuring several of the state’s top high school teams) this weekend because I was going to a good friend’s baby shower. To be fair, it was a baby shower held at a bar and where massive quantities of fried food were served, but you still don’t come away looking good when you have to toss out the words "baby shower" in explaining your absence from a set of good games.

5) If I was part of the Wisconsin state legislature, I would be in the process of drafting a bill that bans the North Dakota State basketball team from playing any contests against teams from Wisconsin. That’s two years in a row that the Bison have pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the year against one of my teams.

6) Thankfully, I had to attend an event in Madison on Saturday night and didn’t make it down to the Marquette-Northwestern State game. While these days I typically run with a bunch of Marquette fans, being in Madison, I was back in the company of my old Wisconsin fan friends. It was a good place to be. Had I been in Milwaukee with the guys that I have seats with, I would have spent the post-game at a bar listening to my friend Greg complain about Marquette failing to have high hands on defense, and watching him futilely trying to numb the pain of the loss with cigarettes and booze (which is almost never the answer, kids). Instead, I got to hang with people who’s reactions ranged from barely-contained glee, to disappointment that Wisconsin would no longer be able to play the role of underdog next Saturday (assuming, of course, that Winthrop, who notched a Marquette upset in last year’s Blue & Gold Classic championship doesn’t pull a reverse-NDSU on Wisconsin tonight).

7) The NDSU loss has no affect on how I think Marquette will perform in the Wisconsin game this upcoming weekend. My sense has always been that Tom Crean is a genius at getting his teams worked up for big games. However, the type of emotion that he stirs up for the key games can’t be maintained over an entire season. That’s why neither blowing Duke off the court nor getting upset by NDSU is out of character for Marquette. But make no mistake, with Crean’s mastery of psychology, the Marquette team that sees the court on Saturday will have us asking "How did those guys lose to NDSU?"

8) The drive to Madison was phenomenal on Saturday night because of the radio programming. First, I stumbled upon a replay of this week’s Coach K’s "Basketball and Beyond" show as I set off. For some reason, the guests on the show seem to be specifically programmed to me, and this week was no exception, with Doris Burke holding the guest’s chair. Aside from getting to hear Coach K and the confusingly attractive Ms. Burke talk hoops for a bit, I got to learn a bit about adaptability in the "Beyond" segment. Not a bad way to travel. Add to that my discovery that Madison’s FM 100.5 now broadcasts Marquette games (where was this when I was in Madison?), and I was a happy man the entire drive over.

9) I made some attempts to watch each of the four other games that I had recorded (UWM-Oakland, Gonzaga-Texas, Illinois-Arizona, Georgetown-Duke), but didn’t get through enough of any of them to make any substantive comments. I’ll probably still try to get through the Illinois-Arizona game because a) I want to see how Arizona comes back from the ass-kicking that Illinois was putting on them to start the game, and b) I’ve been itching to see super-freshman Chase Budinger play ever since he got robbed in the McDonald’s All-American dunk competition.

10) Greg Oden’s back early? Wow, I actually didn’t see that coming. I’m highly impressed with his stats (14 and 10 in just over 20 minutes) when it would seem that he’s not at all near game shape. That said, I’ve talked to people that were really blown away by the highlight tape on him. This confuses me, because aside from one excellent block, all I saw was a guy making a clunky post move for his first collegiate points, and later taking some awkward left-handed foul shots (while I suppose the shooting lefty thing is almost super-human, it still looks awkward). I’m willing to believe, based on the stats, that Oden will be a frightening player to watch, but the 30 seconds of highlights from this past weekend certainly don’t speak to the wonders that we will see out of him.

Back tomorrow with thoughts on whatever I happen to take in. Since Kansas-USC is the only game that seems to be on TV, I’ll probably go with that. Let’s hope that fun Kansas shows up and crappy Kansas stays at home.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Nothing to Report

Milwaukee's under attack from massive amounts of snow this morning. They say it's the first full-on blizzard since 1999, a blizzard which I have distinct memories of. Up to 13 inches of snow has been predicted, though I had been doubting that prediction, since the local news tends to over-sell the drama of snowstorms this time of year. I wasn't quite sure what modern newspeople would do if there was ever real commuting chaos caused by snow. Well, now I know. This morning I woke up to the sounds of some sort of official on my clock radio issuing a warning that people should stay off the roads if they don't want to risk a fatal accident. So apparently we're in the middle of a death storm. Somehow, I persevered and made it to work today.

The basketball-related point of that last paragraph? There was none, really. I was just trying to put off the inevitable news that I took the night off from basketball last evening, despite actually being able to find the Gonzaga-Portland State game deep in my channel lineup. Yeah, I dropped the ball there. But I should be back on track tonight as I'm heading down to Marquette's Blue & Gold Classic at the Bradley Center. Assuming, of course, that I can thwart the evil plans of the snow, which I suspect by 3pm the local news will be reporting is forming together in an attempt to take over the city government.

Back Monday. Enjoy your weekend.

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