Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Iowa Trip Redux

Two weeks ago, I was locked out from posting by Blogger. I think I liked it a bit too much, because I’ve got no excuses for the last two days of absence, other than the fact that I’ve simply neglected to write about (or watch, for that matter) basketball (though I could kick myself for missing two huge games that I had targeted the last two nights). I’m working on regaining my diligence, but it’s not an easy task this year.

Anyway, it was a tiring hoops weekend down at Coe College (we never did get to Iowa City), where I went with my friends Beau and Greg to watch their old high school coach, now the head coach at Coe, in action. In two nights we saw the Kohawks in action against Luther College Dubuque College. I saw better basketball than I had expected (Coe went 2-0 on the weekend), and got to experience the charming Coe College gym, one of the smaller venues, even for division three, that I have ever seen. A few quick notes below:

1) Despite the student section for Coe being dubbed "The Nut House," it was not exactly the craziest assembly of students that I’ve ever seen. Although, I did highly enjoy their student section t-shirts, dubbing each of them "Coe-ko-nuts." Even if their voices didn’t overwhelm the gym, bonus points to the students for creativity there.

2) Obviously, big thanks to Coe’s coach Jukem, who in addition to getting us into the game free of charge, was gracious enough to join us out post-game on Saturday night to talk about hoops and anything else that you could think of. Experiences like that are why I hang out with guys like Beau and Greg. I may not know anyone legitimate in the basketball world, but I’m great at riding the coattails of friends that do.

3) Coe’s nickname is the Kohawks. This past weekend they played the Luther Norse, and the Dubuque Duhawks. This begs the question–why are the nicknames at liberal arts colleges in Iowa (and for that matter, Minnesota) so absolutely painful?

4) Each of the nights that we attended games, the Coe staff had recruits that they wanted to talk to in attendance, and were planning other recruit meetings set up throughout the weekend. Seeing this up close, it struck me that division three recruiting must be a much more annoying ordeal than division one recruiting. If you’re the big state school like Wisconsin or Iowa, a lot of your recruiting work is pretty straightforward, since you’re typically going to be pursuing the top couple of guys in your state. If you’re a division three program, though, you must have to cast a ridiculously wide net, since variables such as desire to attend a small school, ability to get in academically, and ability to pay for a small private school all come into play. Oh yeah, and you need to be able to play ball, too. Filling out a division three roster is not a task I’d want to tackle.

5) Post-game on Saturday night, my group of people hung around the gym for several minutes after the game. It surprised me how many members of the team continued to mill around the gym, with one of the players actually being told by an assistant to stop working on his shooting and go home for the night. Didn’t these guys know that it was Saturday night, and they had partying to do? When you’re 20 years old, there’s no questions--that’s what you’re supposed to do on Saturday.

Indeed, my friends and I were a bit more diligent about getting to our post-game excitement. Ultimately, the weekend wore us down to the point where the original Sunday stop-off in Iowa City was nixed, and I ended up enjoying the game with Beau on the radio (Note to the Iowa announcing team–it’s not pronounced Joe "Kray-ben-hoft." Did you even try to learn proper pronounciations?) while we drove back to Milwaukee. While I would have liked to have seen the game, getting back early wasn’t the worst thing in the world, since I’m always a fan of relaxation on a Sunday night (and I wanted to get home before the Home Depot closed). I just wished my DVR hadn’t recorded the wrong channel, leaving me with no way to actually watch the game. All in all, it was a great weekend, though.

Back tomorrow with thoughts on Wisconsin-Indiana, which should be fairly scary tonight.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Prepping For a Big Weekend

No basketball watching for me last night, as I instead spent the evening hanging out with some friends and watching NBC reruns. No guilt here, though, as The Office might be the only thing on TV better than live basketball, and I’ve got a pretty full weekend of basketball planned. Tonight and tomorrow night, I’ll be taking in some division three basketball in Iowa with a couple of good friends, and swinging through Iowa City on the way back to either scalp tickets to the Badger game there, or head to a bar to endure merciless taunting from Iowa fans. I’m a bit pained to be missing one of the bigger rivalry weekends of the year here, featureing tonight’s Tosa East-Marquette High game, tomorrow’s UWM-UWGB game, both of which it pains me to miss, but it’s pretty much impossible to have a bad weekend when the words "Iowa City" are involved in your travels in any way.

Back on Monday, probably with a plethora of things to talk about.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Marquette vs. Seton Hall: A Poorly Loaded See-Saw

Whew, lots of basketball last night. Due to time constraints, I’m only going over the Marquette-Seton Hall game, though I did DVR the Wisconsin-Michigan game and watch that once I got home (as I told some friends this weekend, live events always trump televised games). It was no help to me, though, that both games were some of the longest games that I’ve seen all year. But it was a lot of fun for one night. Perhaps too much. Notes on the Marquette game below.

1) The Whitnall Middle School choir sang the national anthem last night, and though I’m no music expert, I was pretty impressed. This may have something to do with my own low expectations, though. Back when I was in middle school, I seem to recall choir being the class that nerds and guys who smoked cigarettes took because they didn’t want to learn an instrument. Those kids from Whitnall were clearly of a higher class than the choir folks when I was a kid, though.

2) At first, I was offended at the price of $4.50 when I made my (amazingly) my first concession food purchase of the year, buying a jumbo hot dog at the Bradley Center. Then I saw the hot dog. It truly was jumbo, and with the going rate for a large beer at $8.00, that much second-grade meat for $4.50 was truly a bargain. It was no Miller Park hot dog, but it still went down nicely.

3) One of my friends noted, and I tend to agree, that the loss of the huge inflatable arm-waving guys during Marquette player introductions is a change for the worse this year. While I always found myself making fun of the cartoonish inflatable figures, the fact remains, there’s just not that much going on down on the court now when the players run out. And after a few years of those over-the-top figures, I sort of miss them. Yeah, I’m confused by that, too.

4) I was less than impressed with Seton Hall last night, and that was reflected in the way that I perceived the game. While the Pirates kept the game close for most of the first half, I felt like Marquette was perpetually up by 8.

5) Just to keep watch on my prediction that Dominic James’ 3-point shooting would drop off, and Ousmane Barro would continue his solid play, let’s look at the stats. James was 1-3 from three-point range, with his two misses being a shot that barely drew iron, and a shot that missed the entire apparatus by about a foot an a half. Barro had 13 points and 6 boards, and while most of his numbers came in the second half, those are still some solid stats. A few more games will need to pass before I say that my prediction is looking good, but this game’s a nice start for me.

6) It’s been needed to be said for awhile, but the "Very Important Fan" section that some sponsor promotes each game is perhaps the biggest misnomer ever. The VIF section is comprised of something like 12 people who sit in spacious seats with gigantic yellow placards in front of them. The problem? They’re located in a back corner of one of the lower sections, which doesn’t exactly give the view that you’d want to give to a real "Very Important Fan."

7) I can’t recall the last time the crowd was treated to a halftime student musical chairs competition. Part of me wonders (implausibly, of course) if the Marquette administration heard about my friends’ brilliant idea to turn the musical chairs competition into a way to gamble for beer, and decided to curb that type of activity right away. If that’s the case, I’ve got news for those administrators–we’re four men in our late-20s and early-30s. As I’ve noted earlier, when you get such a group of men together, we can turn just about anything into a game revolving around gambling and/or beer. So you’d better put Dan Fitzgerald on the pine, because the next time he commits a foul, I have a feeling one of us might be buying a beer for someone.

8) The second half point swings in this game were one of the strangest things that I’ve ever seen. Marquette jumped out to a great 2nd half start, and with 17 minutes to go was up by 19. My friends and I spent the next five minutes so convinced that the rest of the game was going to be a cake walk, that we resorted to talking about old obscure characters, including Riff-Raff, leader of those cats who lived in a junkyard on the Heathcliffe show and Heckyl and Jeckyl. By the time that the conversation shifted to me explaining that of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, Mr. Hyde was the evil one, because unlike Dr. Jeckyll, he had not completed his doctorate, Seton Hall was back within six. Yet, by the four minute time-out, the game was again so out of hand that fans were heading for the exits. Marquette finally won by 13, but it was a wild ride getting there.
9) Say what you will about Marquette not being able to put Seton Hall away when the Pirates were down 20 near the start of the first half, but after the scoring drought that the Golden Eagles went though, you can’t help but respect the fact that they ultimately scored 89 points.

10) No Lawrence Blackledge in last night’s game, which was disappointing. It appears that he’s now the guy who’s fallen to the back of the big man line, which, though possibly the correct move, is a complete downer, since before being relegated to the bench, Blackledge was averaging roughly 1.6 ridiculous, jaw-droppingly athletic plays per game.

And a few quick other notes before I go:

–I’m not a big fan of Milwaukee’s channel 41's broadcasts of Wisconsin, Marquette and UWM games to begin with, as the picture quality that is usually displayed on said channel is roughly that of a high-quality webcam (my friend Dez’s wife describes it as "super low-definition"). However last night, following the Badger game, I was taken aback by a new low in a promotional commercial for this weekend’s Iowa game on 41's sister station, channel 58 (the CBS affiliate). The commercial encouraged viewers to watch the Sunday afternoon broadcast, which would be "live from Ames, Iowa." I had to rewind a couple of times to make sure I heard that right. Either the people at 41 don’t know their geography at all, or I’m going to have to completely change my plans for an Iowa road trip this weekend. I had no idea that the Hawkeyes would be hosting the Badgers on the Iowa State campus.

–It’s been all over the news over the last few days–Baraboo High School banned students from chanting "USA!" because it’s a covert way of saying "you suck ass" to the opposing team. Old news here, though, as we were on this issue nearly two years ago (see point 5). As I said then, youth culture has clearly passed me by.

I should catch some UWM action via my DVR, but no promises of an immediate update, since I've got some non-basketball plans tonight, and some preparation to do for my long weekend of experiencing basketball in the great state of Iowa. But since Detroit is always a good game, and I've shown zero love to UWM this year, I will be commenting on it at some point. Happy game watching!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Back From the Dead...

So I'm back. Thanks to those of you who inquired as to whether or not I had been fatally injured in a bizarre accident of some sort (I was not). And big thanks to the Big Ten Wonk for putting out word about the real reason behind my absence, at a time when I had no viable way of doing so myself. For those of you who didn't see the explanation for my absence via the Wonk, or hear about it personally from me, I've been locked out from posting by the Blogger website since last Sunday. Their automatic system flagged me as a "spam blog," and they needed time to review my content to ensure that I was not, in fact, solely in existence to peddle penis enlargement techniques to the public. While a layoff during the height of conference season has been something of an annoyance, I can't be too angry at Blogger. After all, they're just fighting spam, which everyone hates, and frankly, the break in writing gave me a fun week where I could just watch games like an average fan, without having to think of ways to dissect the absurdities occurring on the court.

But of course, there’s a lot to catch up on, and no way that I’ll cover everthing. Off the top of my head, though, here's a few thoughts:

1) In Marquette's last two victories, I've seen two key things that have elevated them beyond their struggles in their first two games of the year. First, Dominic James has been shooting very well from long range. Second, Ousmane Barro is playing really, really well. I think the James thing is something of an aberration and that he'll be back to normal pretty soon, but I think Barro's improvement is real. And that's a good thing, because the Golden Eagles haven't had a reliable big man since Marcus Jackson. And Jackson, though reliable in most areas, couldn't score like Barro.

2) As I've said before, I don't think there's a more entertaining conference to watch this year than the Pac-10. Entertaining, however, doesn't always mean good. Case in point--if you were to ask me who my favorite Pac-10 teams to watch are, I'd tell you that Washington and Arizona are the most fun to observe. But they're both losing at record pace of late (with Washington dropping a particularly painful one to WSU this past weekend). Be that as it may, I can't take my eyes off the Huskies or Wildcats (though I often have to, since Fox Sports really seems to have a thing for USC).

3) A belated thanks to my friend Boo-Yah for providing me with some of the best seats in the house for last week’s Wisconsin-Purdue game. Long before the week of the game, when the Marcus Landry vs. Carl Landry talk really heated up, I had been anticipating this matchup. Marcus’s block on his older brother was truly an electric moment. And the icing on the cake was getting to see Jonathan Overby decked out in his signature white tuxedo singing the national anthem. That took me back to my early student days at the Fieldhouse, when it was sort of jarring to just see a random guy in a white tuxedo standing in the corridors 15 minutes before gametime when I was heading to my seat.

4) Do you have any idea how annoying it is to not be able to be able to post my thoughts when I see something as bizarre on TV as a filler segment during a game about how Bo Ryan knows how to hambone? I'm still wondering how that came up in conversation? Did the TV crew just walk up to him before practice and ask "Hey coach, do you have any completely random skills, like juggling fire, or beat-boxing that you could do for us? Oh, you can hambone? Wait a second--we're going to fire up the camera."

5) Frustrating as not being able to talk about the Bo Ryan hambone thing was, maybe the most painful thing to miss commenting on was Bruce Pearl painting his torso orange and hanging with the student section for a Tennessee women's game. Was the universe just taunting me with that missed opportunity? There's no middle ground on how you feel about this action--you either think Pearl's an idiot, or he's a creative genius. For the record, put me down as thinking he's a genius. I love his bizarre enthusiasm. Tennessee, with it's prominent football and women's basketball teams, needed a guy like Pearl, who would be a tireless promoter for his team, and whose ego (though I’m sure healthy) would be willing to deal with starting out as third-fiddle. His experience at UWM, a third-fiddle program to which he brought more attention than it had ever received, was perfect preparation for such a task. Are there things that I don’t like about Bruce Pearl? Sure, but you have to admire his work ethic.

6) I believe someone said during UWM’s early season losing streak that they’d settle down and be fine during conference season. Any idea who that might have been? Yep, this is one of my rare opportunities to pat myself on the back.

7) Had I been posting last week, I'd have predicted that Wisconsin would lose at Illinois, due to Champaign being a tough place to play, and Wisconsin generally having a history of being shaky on the road. And I'd have been wrong. I'd still like to predict a loss to a weird team, but Iowa, Penn State and Minnesota all just seem too far out there to me. (Which, of course, means that I've just jinxed the Badgers).

8) I don’t believe that I’ve seen any reports that Illinois football coach Ron Zook is dead, so I’ll assume that he was just napping when the camera captured him attending the Wisconsin-Illinois game on Saturday. Either way, Zook didn’t exactly look like the biggest basketball fan in the world at that moment.

9) After catching the first half of the Duke-N.C. State game this past weekend, I couldn't help noticing that Sidney Lowe is performing just as I suspected he would as coach of the Wolfpack--badly. Part of me wondered if Lowe's game plan was to simply let Duke's guards penetrate into the lane for some incomprehensible reason. Maybe I just caught a bad half of basketball from the Wolfpack, but I doubt it. It seldom works when you hire a) a guy with no college coaching experience (the NBA is so different that I can't even watch it) and b) the sentimental choice of a well-liked alum. With rare exceptions, that's a recipe for disaster.

10) Don’t worry–you’re not going insane. I saw it too, and it was mind-boggling. Yes, the president of the United States did reference Dikembe Mutombo during the of the State of the Union Speech last night.

It’s good to be back. Tomorrow I should be back with a more normal update, after I check out tonight’s Marquette-Seton Hall game downtown. I’m woefully under-prepared in terms of my Seton Hall knowledge (Shaheen Holloway and Andrew Gaze aren’t still playing there, right?), but the way Marquette’s been playing lately, I’m bound to have fun anyway. And if my stamina allows, it might be time for a late-night DVR session with Wisconsin and Michigan.

Back to normal tomorrow! (In the meantime, see my lost post from last Monday, before I actually believed that I was locked out of the system.)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Weekend Thoughts

I did see a few more things this weekend, but the things that held my attention most were the Marquette-West Virginia game that I attended, and the Wisconsin-Northwestern game that I watched on TV. Thoughts below:

Wisconsin vs. Northwestern:

1) I’m on record in the past noting that Tim Doyle is perhaps the least athletic division one basketball player that I’ve ever seen, and that if the camera never showed his feet, you’d suspect that he was wearing black dress socks during the game. I guess it’s these things that make the fact that he’s good so frustrating. When’s the last time you saw a guard back down someone in the lane as if he was playing in his driveway at home?

2) Thanks for Vince Scott for hitting some three-pointers early in the game. While his scoring actually hurt the Badgers, and the set shot type technique that he used was pretty goofy looking, I needed Scott to score. Last year he made me look foolish after I talked up his range, and then he failed to connect from outside as I watched a Northwestern game with some friends. So Vince Scott, thanks for doing just enough to keep me from looking stupid again.

3) My friend Dez notes that the Northwestern mascot should be called the M-Cat. I couldn’t agree more.

4) I ended up watching most of the Badger game with my friend The Franchise, who is a fierce Marquette fan (in fact, we had just left the Marquette-West Virginia game) and despises Wisconsin. Watching a game with The Franchise when he hates one of the teams is always interesting. During the game, there were about 6 instances of him watching the Badgers hit a shot and then noting "well, this game is over." Obviously he was trying to set himself up to talk about how Wisconsin had the game in hand and then blew it, just in case they ended up losing. It wasn’t one of the most masterful set-ups I’ve ever seen, as one of his declarations that the Badgers had the game won came when they hit a shot to cut Northwestern’s lead by one. Sure, Northwestern’s not Ohio State, but I’m still not declaring their chances at a win dead when they’re up by one. (Other things that I learned from The Franchise on Saturday: The season will be an utter disappointment for Wisconsin if the Badgers don’t make the Final Four.)

5) How crazy is it that after a struggle to beat Northwestern, it would seem likely that Wisconsin will actually move up in the national rankings this week. Thanks for beating up on the Tar Heels, Virginia Tech.

Marquette vs. West Virginia:

1) My friends and I decided to vocally point out turnovers by Jerel McNeal in the West Virginia game, and it was pretty impressive how quickly the numbers added up. That said, McNeal does enough on both ends of the floor in terms of scoring and disrupting the other teams guards that even though he seems to be averaging 6 turnovers per game, his positives make up for it. So, if you’re an optimist, you’re saying that McNeal’s pretty good, in spite of his turnovers. Or, if you’re a pessimist, you’d have to say that McNeal’s not quite as good as his other stats imply, given his massive turnover rate.

2) Though we’ve not come up with a way to gamble on it yet, my friend and I have a new contest with one another at Marquette games. When Dan Fitzgerald comes into the game, we each pick the amount of time that will be left on the clock when he commits his first foul. Seldom are any of the picks more than 3 minutes from when he enters the game. He’s sort of like the new Chris Grimm, except that Grimm was much more likely to commit his fouls off the ball. Fitzgerald didn’t let us down on Saturday, committing his first foul within 2 seconds of my predicted time.

3) The halftime presentation of players from the past years of Marquette basketball was nice, but not nearly as good as last year’s, when they introduced the name of every player in attendance. Not only was that fun for reminding yourself of old names from the past (an experience that had to be even more fun for someone old enough to remember back past about 1985), but you also sort of want to know who the guys who have let themselves go physically are. It’s still jarring to see guys who played in the 1990s who are noticeably overweight (with the exception of Damon Key, whose appearance last year sort of confirmed what we’d always expected would happen.).

4) Dwight Burke continued his fine play for Marquette, which can mean only one thing: two weeks from now he’ll be playing about 6 minutes per game, while Jamil Lott stops playing in garbage time and takes Burke’s minutes. I’d like to say that I’m just joking on this point, but given Marquette’s big-man substitution patterns of the last couple years, there’s at least a 40% chance that I’m right on this one.

5) Without a doubt, this was the best that I’ve seen Marquette play this year (yes, even better than the Duke game). Against a team that seemed custom-built to beat them, the Golden Eagles got out and ran, hit their foul shots, and even hit some shots behind the three-point line. For a team that looked a week ago like they’d go 0-4 to start conference play, you can’t help but be impressed by their play, and their 2-2 conference record.

Big fun tonight, as Marquette takes on Louisville, led by a local favorite of mine, freshman Jerry Smith. Here’s hoping that Smith scores 30 on Marquette, but that the Cardinals lose by 15. (Hey, I can still love the local products, even if they’re playing for the enemy).

Friday, January 12, 2007

Quick Hitters

As has been a recurring theme this season, life’s been busy the last couple of days, so I’m somewhat derelict in my basketball watching and writing. Nonetheless, I’d like to get in a few quick thoughts before the weekend is upon us:

1) Nice win for Marquette the Wednesday night at UConn. If you saw the game, it would be easy to minimize this as a win over a program that’s having a down year and played remarkably sloppy basketball. And while those things are true, I don’t think you can ever minimize a win over UConn on their home court. They might not have Rudy Gay, Josh Boone and Marcus Williams this year, but they’re still UConn, and I’ll take that win any day. Particularly when it means that it provides Marquette with its first conference win, and something to build on. Kudos, by the way, to Dwight Burke, for having his first really solid game as a Golden Eagle.

2) I saw the end of last night’s Washington-Stanford game, which I stumbled upon and felt compelled to watch because a) it was much closer than I expected and b) Washington is rapidly becoming one of my favorite teams to watch. Stanford ended up pulling out the upset. Much as I enjoy the Huskies, I’ve seldom seen a team bungle things up like they did in the final 30 seconds of last night’s game. From Ryan Appleby’s inexplicable foul when the game was tied with just under 30 seconds to go, to the entire team’s failure to promptly foul when down by two afterwards, the whole thing was a brutal affair. On the bright side, Stanford’s Robin Lopez looks an awful lot like a tall version of the character Spanish from the film Old School.

3) Nice to see UWM keep rolling along with a 60-48 victory at Cleveland State last night. While Cleveland State’s not exactly an epic win, a victory over them was not a given for UWM earlier in the year. I’m unlikely to see the Panthers play in person again until Cleveland State makes its way to Milwaukee, but I’ll have my eyes keyed in on their box scores until them.

4) I’m worried about the Wisconsin trip to Northwestern this weekend. While a win for the Wildcats seems totally illogical, I’m scared because of Wisconsin’s historic proclivity for struggling on the road. And because of my deep-rooted dislike of Northwestern athletic teams, they would be the perfect villain to rain on the Badgers’ parade and spoil everything that Wisconsin has worked toward so far.

5) After receiving the question from my friend Adam last night, I’d like to clarify that I will not be wearing my Kevin Pittsnogle jersey to the Marquette-West Virginia game tomorrow. While I still have a healthy respect for Mr. Pittsnogle, Marquette is my team, so I will not wear an opposing team’s gear to any game (with the exception of the Wisconsin game, as my allegiance to my alma mater trumps any local pride that I have in the Golden Eagles).

Enjoy the weekend. I’ll be having fun with the local teams, and looking forward to Bruce Pearl and his boys from Tennessee paying a visit to Ohio State. Should be a fast-paced affair!

Happy basketball-watching this weekend.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Wisconsin vs. Ohio State: The Main Event

For the last few days, it seemed like Tuesday night would never come. While there have been some games at the Kohl Center with bigger immediate implications than last night’s Wisconsin-Ohio State game, the #3 Badgers playing the #5 Buckeyes felt like about as big an event as had ever taken place in Madison. Did I consider making the trip to Madison for the game? Not for a second, after learning a few weeks back that one of my friends had sold his two phenomenal seats for $681 on eBay. When that type of dough is being thrown around, I’m content to watch the game at home, or at a bar with friends, the latter of which I ended up doing. And it was a joyful night, as we watched the Badgers take down an Ohio State team that just a month earlier I would have had a hard time believing that Wisconsin could beat. My thoughts on the game:

1) And as the game began, 75% of the world got very excited when they noticed that Dick Vitale’s microphone was not turned on. Roughly 1.5 seconds later, that same 75% of the world sighed in disappointment, when ESPN turned the mic on.

2) Yesterday I expressed confidence that Wisconsin’s deep bench of potential players to throw at Greg Oden would do a nice job of holding the big man in check, but I sure didn’t expect things to happen exactly as they did. Most notably, I sure didn’t expect Jason Chappell to come out, play way over his head, and do the best job on Oden of anyone. Chappell was brilliantly physical, leading my friend Austin to accurately note about him at one point that his play on Oden resembled one of the characters from A Night At the Roxbury aggressively dancing with a woman. Ultimately, this worked for Chappell (and others), since being able to throw Chappell, Greg Stiemsma, Marcus Landry, Brian Butch, and even Kevin Gullikson, in a pinch, at Oden meant that no one had to play in fear of fouling out. But it sure would have made more sense if Stiemsma had been the guy carrying the night with his physical play. Instead, Stiemsma saw lots of bench time and Chappell showed me that he’s come a long way from just being the bench-warmer that I made fun of for looking as if he was high all the time.

3) Was there anything more perplexing than the fact that coming out of the first half, the most damaging thing that Ohio State was able to throw at Wisconsin was...Ivan Harris’ three-point shooting? I know Harris is proficient from behind the arc, but there seem so many more legitimate ways for Ohio State to beat you.

4) I seldom get to pat myself on the back for pre-game predictions (partly because I’m so awful at them that I typically just forgo making pre-game predictions), but I got a lot right in my pre-game comments yesterday. Most notably, I made the point that while Wisconsin’s big men vs. Greg Oden was a nice sub-plot, guard play would decide this game. I offer big thanks to Kammron Taylor and Michael Flowers for having arguably their best games of the year, and making me look mildly intelligent. I hope they’re each packed in ice today, though, because neither one came off the floor much, and they must be tired and sore. I want them good and rested for an always-more-frightening-than-expected Northwestern team on Saturday. (And while I'm patting myself on the back, my prediction of a 76-71 win for Wisconsin wasn't too far off from the actual 72-69 score. Nice work, me.)

5) My friend Ferd would like to pass along the following message to ESPN: If you’re going to have Erin Andrews talk about something, the least you could do is have her on screen at all times when she’s talking so that we can see her. Fair enough point, I suppose.

6) I was mildly surprised to see Brian Butch have such a rough night tonight. While it doesn’t shock me if Butch has an off night here and there, since he’s a streaky player, I figured the new elbow pad that he was wearing would allow him to mix it up down low. Excitement over this ability to bang with the other big guys should have led to a confident and productive night. Instead we got the lower-end of streaky-Butch. Not bad timing, though, all things considered.

7) Dan Shulman and Dick Vitale discussed multiple times the fact that Greg Oden and Mike Conley have played basketball together since 6th grade. Given this fact, you just know that there’s some guy like me out there getting tons of mileage out of the time that his 7th grade squad stayed within 20 points of their team, and he "held" Oden to 23 points. Of course, I only know this is true because I can still name some of the guys that lit me up in 7th grade. Unfortunately, my friends Beau and Kevin are probably the only people that would recognize any of those names.

8) Was there anyone in America less excited than current Milwaukee Bucks star and former Ohio State star Michael Redd when the camera found him in the second half with OSU way down? And how about Erin Andrews following this up by asking him what he thought of Greg Oden, on a night when Oden had no field goals prior to the question? Redd forced a nice answer, but this wasn’t one of those nights where everyone ended up in awe of Oden. Sure, it was the only night like that in recorded history, but it still made for an awkward question.

9) Is it wrong that I’m just about numb to the spectacular ability of Alando Tucker to hit bizarre running shots, and toss the ball off of his hip while falling away from the hoop, only to have it fall through the basket? At this point, you just sort of have to accept that Tucker’s going to hit a handful of shots that look like something that no other player in the country could pull off on a regular basis. Sure, I got excited after Tucker tossed in that ridiculous shot where he seemed to pull the ball from where his knees were at, but afterward I thought "Well, that’s just what he does."

10) Prior to the game, my friend Josh informed me of the news that Bo Ryan had been using former Wisconsin Badger center, Rashard Griffith, to play on the scout team in practice in preparation for this game. Two things strike me about this situation. First, Bo Ryan is a genius for getting perhaps the best possible faux-Greg Oden who’s not playing in the NBA to play the role of Greg Oden for his team. There are limited things that a massive center who’s had lots of success in a Turkish league is perfect for, but this is one of them. Secondly, if you had told me that Rashard Griffith had any sort of affinity for the Wisconsin program, or Madison in general back when he was in college, I would have told you that you were nuts. But given that there seems to be a story ever few months about Griffith coming back to town for something, you’d have to think that there is something that he genuinely likes about his alma mater.

11) The bar that I was at had side-by-side TVs showing the Wisconsin-Ohio State game, and the Alabama-LSU game. I wasn’t sure whether to be excited or sort of embarrassed when I briefly glanced over at ESPN2 and caught them at commercial of the Alabama-LSU game and showing a highlight of the Wisconsin-Ohio State game that consisted of Jason Chappell scoring on a hook shot from the lane where he just sort of lofted the ball up in a frightened manner. It’s good that Chappell scored, obviously, but ESPN couldn’t have found one of the clips of the Badgers scoring in a cooler manner for SEC fans to see?

12) On those same side-by-side TVs, it seemed like every time I glanced over to the Alabama-LSU game, Glen Davis was somehow writhing in pain. I’d like to go for the low-blow and say that he was living up to his nickname, "Big Baby," but given that Davis was in a car crash recently, and that I saw a graphic at one point in the second half crediting him with 20 points and 17 rebounds, I guess I can’t be too critical of the guy.

13) When the game looked safely locked up for the Badgers, Dick Vitale made the point that Ohio State did a nice job of not giving up, even though things looked bleak. My friends and I sort of laughed at this point, but ultimately conceded that Vitale had a point, because even down 10 points, the Buckeyes really were throwing everything that they had at trying to get back into the game. Even we weren’t expecting them to eventually end up with a shot at the buzzer that could have sent the game to overtime, though. Say what you will about Ohio State, but they proved that they play until the buzzer, no matter what.

14) I’ve almost gotten through all of my points, and I just realized that I haven’t really mentioned Joe Krabbenhoft at all. That’s because he’s just always sort of there, filling in holes, and taking care of whatever needs to get done, even if most people aren’t noticing him. Have I mentioned lately that I love his game?

15) Could Ohio State have any tougher schedule to start the year? As I’ve noted about them in the past, I am really excited to watch the Buckeyes play, but it seems like all that I ever see them do is lose. But then again, those teams that I’ve seen them lose to are North Carolina, Florida, and Wisconsin, ranked numbers 1-3 in the AP poll. Those are all of their losses. And let’s not forget that all of these losses have come on the road. That struggle to beat Indiana is also looking a bit less troubling, after Indiana laid into Michigan State on Sunday. So Ohio State’s probably the most legitimate 13-3 team ever. Too bad that the three games that most people have seen them play are also their three losses. With a roster full of freshmen gaining experience, they’re still going to be super-scary come March.

After breathing a sigh of relief that Ohio State wasn’t quite able to force overtime after amazingly clawing their way back into the game with 30 seconds, my friends and I left our viewing location, and went on our separate ways. I typically hate nights like these, when I have a bunch of things to write about after a late game, and end up losing sleep as I type things up before they leave me brain forever. Last night, though, I sat happily typing away, unable to keep my eyes open as I articulated my points to the screen in front of me. On a night that wonderful, a little extra time awake hurts a lot less.

And as if the Badger win last night wasn’t enough, Marquette takes on perennial power Connecticut tonight. It seems like big-name foes are around every corner this week, and Marquette pulling an upset to get back on track in the Big East would be a nice way to fill out the week. Let’s hope that the Golden Eagles have been working on their foul shooting, and are ready to rebound from Sunday’s Syracuse game.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

UW-Whitewater vs. UW-River Falls (Oh, And My Wisconsin-Ohio State Prediction, Too)

Before I get to that my description of the bizarre end to regulation of the Whitewater-River Falls game from this past weekend, I feel it necessary to give my official prediction for tonight’s epic Wisconsin-Ohio State showdown. As I’ve shown in the past, I’m horrific at game predictions. That’s why I usually stay away from doing them. Some of you may remember two years ago when UW-Milwaukee was playing Illinois in the NCAA tournament and Illinois won by the exact amount (14 pts.) that I said they wouldn’t. Nonetheless, I’m feeling compelled to offer my brief opinions on tonight’s Ohio State-Wisconsin game. While I will be as excited as everyone else out there to watch Wisconsin throw an endless supply of bodies at Greg Oden, guard play is what I’m even more interested in. While I think that sheer depth will carry Wisconsin inside, what I’m worried about is both sheer depth and sheer talent carrying Ohio State outside. So I’ll spend the evening hoping that the fundamentally sound Michael Flowers and the intermittently excellent Kammron Taylor can keep up with Ohio State’s gigantic stable of guards. I’m thinking that experience will carry the day on both parts of the floor, and I’ll say it will be Wisconsin 76, Ohio State 71. (And yes, I’m aware that I just made a game prediction without even referencing Alando Tucker, frontrunner for Big Ten player of the year honors. He’ll have a big game, even if I’m still incapable of figuring out what his position is.). I hate the potential emotional effects of incorrectly predicting a win for my own team, but I just feel good about this one. Whatever happens, I reserve the right to make fun of Greg Oden’s neck beard tomorrow.

On to my day in Whitewater:

As I alluded to yesterday, I found myself in Whitewater on Saturday afternoon taking in the UW-Whitewater vs. UW-River Falls game. It was my first division three game of the year, and I’m happy to say that I got my full $6 worth of excitement. Rather than recap the entire game, I’d like to just describe the surreal moments that took place at the end of regulation. Here’s what I saw:

With the game tied 69-69, and the clock running down to the final seconds, Whitewater had the ball and was working for a final shot. As the were running their final play, River Falls managed a surprising steal, and one of the Falcon players streaked down the floor to lay the ball, leaving .4 seconds on the clock as the ball dropped through the hoop. The River Falls bench went wild, celebrating as if they had won the game (with the exception of one of the smallest guards on the bench, who spent all his energy holding back as many teammates as possible from jumping onto the floor). For all intents and purposes, they had won the game, since it’s nearly impossible to go the length of the floor and get off any reasonable sort of shot in .4 seconds. Nonetheless, Whitewater called timeout to set up a play.

At this point, a lot of things became less clear to me, as I commented to my friend Beau that it looked like we were going to miss out on getting 5 more minutes of basketball free of charge, and we began paying less attention and talking about other things. Eventually, the players all returned to the floor and got set. A ref handed the ball to the inbounder for Whitewater. He looked to find someone down the floor to throw the ball to, but had no immediate luck. Eventually, one of the refs held up his hand and stopped play. I immediately thought that we were about to see the fastest five-second call ever. But no call was made. Instead, the River Falls head coach began loudly noting to the refs "We did not have 6 guys on the floor!" He was forceful in repeatedly telling the refs this, but by no means out of control. The Whitewater coach protested to the refs, and though I could not hear him, it would have to be assumed that he was arguing that River Falls did have 6 players on the floor.

A technical foul was then called on River Falls. To this moment, I can’t tell you why. I’m not sure if River Falls brought 6 players out for the inbounds play, because the number of players on the floor is not something that I typically pay much attention to. After all, there aren’t a lot of teams that are bold enough to try and sneak six out there. Part of me is thinking that the call relates back to when River Falls’ bench exploded onto the floor in the aftermath of the go-ahead layup, but frankly, everything’s fuzzy enough in my head that I’m not 100% positive that players were running onto the floor until after the timeout was called. And even if this was the reason for the call, the refs almost certainly would have caught this issue before the end of the subsequent timeout. Whatever happened, somehow River Falls must have screwed up, and the refs dramatically waited until the last possible moment to call them on it.

After the technical foul was called, Whitewater predictably converted its two free throws, and sent the game to overtime, where the Warhawks made a victory out of what seemed just minutes earlier to be a sure loss. It was undoubtedly the most interesting end to a game that I’ve seen this year, as well as the most frustrating, since I still don’t understand what went on.

Oh, and I should finally point out that my curiosity over what happened led me to the Journal Sentinel’s WIAC roundup the next day, where I read this blurb, which shed almost no light on the subject, and almost seemed to be written by someone at another game. Such is the case, I suppose, when you only have a paragraph in which to describe something so crazy. I guess it does sort of buttress my theory that the technical foul was called as a result of the post go-ahead lay-up celebration. But I come back to my confusion over why the refs wouldn’t have called that violation much, much earlier. I guess this one’s just destined to be a mystery to me.

Here's hoping for a big Badger win tonight. I'll be at my local tavern staking out seats as soon as I can.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Monday Awards

If you've got a spare moment, head on over to David Isaacs' Monday Awards column at SI On Campus. Don't just go because you want to see the quote that I gave him regarding Wisconsin's performance to date. Beyond that, you'll also probably enjoy him giving props to Tony Bennett's surprising Washington State team, and his breakdown of the bottom 5 teams in college hoops.

Marquette vs. Syracuse: The Big East is Going To Be a Bear

Solid weekend of games for me, including my first division three game of the year. And while the wacky ending of UW-Whitewater vs. UW-River Falls deserves some discussion, I’m saving that until tomorrow. Today we’ve got Marquette’s Big East home opener to talk about. It wasn’t a pretty game for either team, but Syracuse pulled through. With a road game on Wednesday at UConn looming for Marquette, the season’s looking a lot more in disarray than it did a month ago for the Golden Eagles. But for now, let’s just talk about the ‘Cuse game:

1) Based solely on what I can remember of the year so far, I believe that last night was Lazar Hayward’s first start of the year for Marquette. I was pretty pleased with the move, since Hayward has really been coming on of late, and the starting lineup of James, McNeal (back from the head injury!), Matthews, Hayward and Barro seemed to be the strongest starting lineup that I had seen all year. And Hayward got off to a nice start, pulling down a few rebounds, tossing in a few layups, and generally being one of the more active Marquette players. It looked like it was going to be a nice night for him, but inexplicably, he seemed to spend more time on the bench than he did in the game. I’ve always had questions about Tom Crean’s substitution patterns, but the failure to use Hayward ranks up there with the most perplexing moves that I’ve seen over the past few years.

2) Worst moment of the game? That would have to be the moment in the second half when Dominic James missed 3 straight foul shots after being fouled shooting a three-pointer, and a handful of plays later, Jerel McNeal missed two more. I can’t think of too many teams that are going to win when their two biggest stars miss five consecutive foul shots.

3) As I listened to the post game show, Tom Crean took issue with the crowd booing after the aforementioned five consecutive missed foul shots. He made the very valid point that those guys aren’t out there trying to miss foul shots, and the crowd needs to pick them up. And while I agree in principle, and generally hold the view that there’s almost no time that you boo your own team, I can’t say that I took too much offense at people who chose to boo. It’s pretty unacceptable when a team misses five straight foul shots, and there’s got to be some way to show frustration.

4) Mark me down as a fan or Syracuse center Darryl Watkins, who did a nice job of taking over the lane on both sides against Marquette. Sure, with Marquette’s odd hodgepode of big men, that might not be the toughest task in the world, but Watkins nonetheless had a very solid game last night.

5) Brutal as some portions of the game were, the lowlight of the night came during the halftime show, which featured what is normally a rock-solid entertainment feature, a team of gymnasts. Before the team trotted out for halftime, my friend Dez pointed them out, and made the note that this might be the night that we would be treated to the Jesse White Tumbling Team, annually Marquette’s best halftime show (just as the F-M Acro Team, North Dakota’s Official Goodwill Ambassadors are Wisconsin’s best halftime show). Instead, we were treated to a local Milwaukee attempt at a Jesse White-esque team. And for the most part, I could deal with the non-Jesse White level showmanship, occasional slip ups, and the smaller configuration of matts, because let’s face it, even if a guy isn’t good at playing to the crowd and falls over once in awhile, a dude who can walk on his forearms is still cool. But things took a turn for the worse during the finale. Let’s just say that if I’m a Marquette cheerleader, I’m going to think long and hard about helping out a halftime act again. It’s one thing if a gymnast is leaping off a trampoline over 10 people, messes up, and clips one of his own guys at the end. But it’s a lot more frightening when that gynmast has a problem on the trampoline and plows full speed into the first five people, all female cheerleaders, knocking the entire row of people over. I’ll give the cheerleaders this, though–despite taking a nasty hit from an errant acrobat, they hung in there for the second attempt, which finally did go off without a hitch. But a Jesse White team this was not.

6) Marquette wore its gold uniforms for last night’s game, while Syracuse wore its road orange. I’m not sure what the line of the night regarding the ultra-vibrant uniform color scheme was. Dez’s brother called him to note that he was watching the game on TV, and it looked like a kaleidoscope had thrown up, which was an interesting take. I think I’m going to give the nod to my friend Greg, however, who sincerely asked me at one point "Yellow and orange? What color do you get if you combine those?" After he speculated for a moment that brown would be the resulting hue, I used my third grade art class learnings to inform him that it would just be a lighter shade of orange. He seemed appeased.

7) Maybe we all saw this coming, but the Journal Sentinel did a nice job of pointing it out beforehand: Marquette’s not at its best against a zone. They’d better work on zone offense, though, because after last night, where they at times didn’t look like they had actually installed a zone offense, they’re going to be seeing a lot more zone defense.

8) Kudos to the sponsors of the halfcourt shot contest last night. Typically, the halfcourt shot contest during one of the timeouts allows a Marquette student to shoot to win something like $10,000.00, or and RV (the sponsor is an RV company, whose name escapes me at the moment). Over the past few seasons, they’ve made contests like this essentially impossible to win (my favorite ridiculous criteria for winning being that the contestant make two out of three halfcourt shots, none of which could be from the same exact location). But last night the sponsor offered up a semester’s tuition for a single halfcourt shot. No catches. If that wasn’t good enough, they then went above and beyond, by allowing the contestant, who had a near miss on the half courter, to shoot a three-pointer for the same prize (instead of the usual pair of tickets to the next game). Faced with this information right before he had to shoot the three-pointer, the contestant totally psyched himself out and missed the rim, but at least we finally got to see a competition that the contestant had a fighting chance of winning.

9) I’m going to be interested in watching how quickly people will start to turn on Tom Crean if Marquette’s slide continues. His coaching came up among my friends and I on our walk back to our cars. My opinion on him remains the same: he’s solid when it comes to running and promoting a program, and is a great motivator, but in terms of actual basketball coaching ability, he’s probably a bit lacking. That said, I think he may have to deal with a bit more garbage from the fans than he deserves in the next few weeks. But for the money that he’s making, I guess he can put up with some junk.

10) I recognize that it was a Sunday night game, and that students are still on break, but I was sort of disappointed in the attendance at the game. Plenty of sections had people in them, but there were definitely more holes than usual in the lower part of the arena. I, for one, was excited to see Syracuse come to town for the first time that I can recall, even if they’re not as great as Syracuse usually is.

And in their second straight Big East game, Marquette’s lackluster foul and three-point shooting ability cost them again. This week should be less-than-interesting, as a trip to UConn is never the best way to get a team back on track (then again, UConn didn’t look like a great way to start conference season last year, and that turned out great, so who knows?). But hopefully the tide should start to turn back a bit by the time that West Virginia comes to town next weekend.

And finally, before I go for the day, I forgot to pass out congratulations and condolences last week to my buddy Dez, whose wife gave birth to their first child, a son, on January 1st. The reasons for the congratulations are obvious. The reasons for the condolences are because Dez, a longtime North Carolina fan, has decided along with his wife to call their son by a family nickname. That nickname? Duke. That’s going to make for some conflicted formative basketball years for the kid...

Back tomorrow with my firsthand account of the confusing end of the Whitewater-River Falls game, and various other thoughts.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Marquette vs. Providence: A Rough Beginning

Last night I had been hoping to get downtown to see a rare UWM game, as I’ve been pretty neglectful of the Panthers this year, and as their overtime win last night proves, my theory about them hitting their stride in the second half of the season may have some merit. Unfortunately, Wednesday afternoon I began coming down with a nasty cold, and decided that it would be best if I tried to rest at home, and just watch the Marquette-Providence game on TV. I’m lazy enough that I probably would have done this anyway, but the cold provided even more justification for doing so. And after missing Marquette’s Big East opener last year, I was a bit wary of doing so again. Game thoughts below:

1) I recognize that when you’re dealing with ESPN+, you’re not getting the top level production team for the game, but I still came away pretty unimpressed with some of the things that occurred at the start of the game. As anyone who’s been somewhat following Marquette knows, Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal both suffered head injuries in a collision several days ago. As such, their playing status was not known until hours before the game. McNeal ended up not playing. Nonetheless, not only was he listed in the on-screen starting lineup for Marquette, he was profiled in a graphic as Marquette’s "star of the game" to watch. Now, I can almost forgive the starting lineup gaffe, since it’s possible ESPN didn’t get the message on that, given the late announcement on McNeal’s status. But if McNeal’s in doubt, why make him the "star of the game?" Couldn’t you use Dominic James, who you know is going to play, and is arguably the bigger star? And then, the whole thing sort of seemed glossed over. I think the next tidbit that I heard about McNeal was after halftime, when the sideline reporter made note of his status as if it was breaking news. Didn’t anyone at ESPN have a clue as to what’s been going on in Milwaukee.

2) I’ll never tire of Dominic James’ freakish athleticism, particularly when I see things like the moment early in the game when he was in the lane and had to pull himself back in order to avoid goaltending a shot. As has become my mantra with regard to all things James-related, you don’t see a lot of 5'11" guys who can do that.

3) It was sort of demoralizing to listen to the TV announcers talk about Marquette switching to a 2-3 zone in order to allow them to gum things up in the lane a bit more, only to watch Providence knock down an easy layup right as the point was being made. Of course, Providence also did just fine attacking the zone in the more traditional way of knocking down three-pointers, as well. Rough night in the zone for Marquette.

4) The TV announcers kept referring to Providence as "PC" last night. While "PC" makes sense as an abbreviation for "Providence College," has anyone else ever heard it referred to in this manner? Maybe it’s a regional thing that we just never hear out here in the midwest, but to me, Providence has always just been Providence. No need for abbreviation.

5) I’m not a particular fan of the arm sleeves worn by Dominic James and Dan Fitzgerald, but Fitzgerald’s sleeve has always bothered me more. James’ build allows him to pull off the Allen Iverson tough-guy look, which though not something I believe one should want to aspire to, is at least a defensible look. Fitzgerald’s skinny arms, when sleeved up, make him look like a woman wearing long gloves to a formal event. So I hope the sleeve really helps his arm, because it sure doesn’t make him look good.

6) I’m not sure if it was the official mascot or not, but either way, the white, ghostly figure (which I’m assuming was a weak representation of a Friar) that I saw behind the basket on a couple of plays was one of the creepiest mascot-type figures that I’ve ever seen.

7) The second half "interview" with Celtics exec Danny Ainge was one of the weakest uses of the sideline reporter that I’ve ever seen. The main question to Ainge was whether he was scouting anyone in particular at the game, to which he answered that he was not, and was just there for pleasure. I’ll give Ainge this, though, as the reporter struggled to find a way to follow that answer up, he pretty much summed up the game when he noted "Providence’s big men are dominating."

8) With about 4:30 left in the game, Providence took a timeout, and afterwards inbounded the ball for a quick three-pointer. How come Marquette can never pull this off out of a time-out?

9) Undoubtedly, Marquette missed Jerel McNeal’s ability to get into the lane last night. But more than that, they missed having someone who could shoot the ball. This game really highlighted the different dimension that Steve Novak brought to the team last year. If Novak was still around, Marquette would have been in last night’s game the whole time, even with the dominant performance of Providence’s interior. When your team’s strength is its guards, and their shooting isn’t great, there’s going to be a few games where they get taken down like this, no matter how good they are at getting to the hoop.

10) I heard the "overrated" chant coming from the rafters of Dunkin’ Donuts Arena at the end of the game last night. I’m not as down on the overrated chant as some people. Even if it devalues the win that your team just completed, I still like that fact that you’re trying to get under the other team’s skin. That said, is the "overrated" chant all that appropriate when you’re playing the #23 team in the country? It would seem to me that this chant should be hauled out only in the event that your team upsets an opponent who is ranked #15 or higher (with an exception if said opponent is a ranked mid-major, in which case the chant is always fair game). Because if you’re lower than that, does anyone really care if you’re overrated?

Post game, I vowed to do a couple of quick chores, and get myself to bed, in an attempt to sleep the cold out of me. Unfortunately, this didn’t quite work, since a 9:30pm showdown between Arizona and Washington caught my attention, and wouldn’t let go until the final buzzer. If you caught this marvelous display of running and shooting, you know what I’m talking about. That’s okay, though, since I’ve got the whole weekend to catch up on sleep. There’s only so many chances that I’m going to get to see two teams like Arizona and Washington trying to run one another off the floor.

Enjoy the weekend. It should be a good one for me, as I attempt to take in my first division three game of the year.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Back to Normal...

Well, I’m back. It’s been a long hiatus, in which I managed to find may way to Binghamton, New York to visit family for the holidays, miss two Marquette games for holiday commitments, and nearly sleep through Florida crushing Ohio State last Saturday after a Friday night that left me with only 45 minutes of sleep. Before I recap my night, a few broad observations from my time off.

1) It was a kick in the head to begin with to find out that I would be missing the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook Shootout due to my holiday trip to New York this year, but it just added insult to injury when one of the first commercials that I saw after arriving in Binghamton was for the Stop DWI Classic, apparently a pretty big high school showcase in the area. My grandfather, the only other sports nerd of my magnitude in my family surely would have gone to this event with me, but of course, starting date for the Stop DWI Classic coincided with the date I was heading back to Milwaukee. Apparently God wants me to stop watching high school basketball.

2) Due to a late change of plans, I didn’t get to see UWM’s 5-point loss to the highly touted Butler Bulldogs this past Saturday, but I’m hoping that this, combined with the recent Panther victory over Wyoming validates what I’ve been saying about UWM since the beginning of the year. I still think the Panthers are a talented group that will start to have some success now that they have experience actually playing (even if my original prediction of a .500 season might be tough to reach now). A similar switch flipped on for UWM last year when Rob Jeter finally got his senior-laden team to buy into his style around mid-season. Only no one noticed it last year, since it was a team with tons of talent and an ability to beat teams even before they understood the new regime. It should be a bit more dramatic to watch the lightbulb go on for this year’s Panther squad.

3) Wisconsin has exceeded my expectations in just about every way this year. Brian Butch is playing so well since his game against Pittsburgh that I don’t feel comfortable mocking him anymore (which is a weird feeling, I might add). Marcus Landry continues to show flashes of why I can see him becoming a superstar next year. And Alando Tucker, while great before, seems to have been replaced by some sort of genetically engineered super-Alando Tucker. Up until the last week or so, I had thought that this team was good, but not as good as the 2003-4 Badgers. I now am taking this opportunity to jump on the bandwagon and say that I prefer this year’s team. It’s a hard jump, but if I’m being honest, it’s one that I have to make.

4) Great, just what Marquette needed–freak head injuries to two of their top three guards running into one another in practice just before conference season. Let’s hope that Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews are ready to go tomorrow night at Providence, but otherwise, let’s just all concede that it was an inspired coaching move by Tom Crean to bench McNeal last game in favor of walk-on Craig Kuphall. Clearly, Crean must have known that his deepest position was about to become the one where he had the most needs.

5) Leave it to me to pick the most difficult possible day to do my first post-holiday game recap. How am I supposed to focus on basketball when Snakes On a Plane got released on DVD yesterday?

And on to my random observations from the little of the Ohio State-Indiana game that I caught last night, most of which are about me buying into the Greg Oden hype machine:

1) The Greg Oden-D.J. White matchup was significant last night not only because both players are among the best post players in the Big Ten, but also because they’re arguably the two oldest looking players in all of NCAA division one basketball. Both have a look described aptly by the announcing team last night (only with regard to Oden, though it also applies to White) as that of a "grizzled veteran." And each one of them has a defining "grizzled veteran" characteristic. So I’m opening up the debate over which is the better defining trait–White’s ridiculously oversized t-shirt, or Oden’s neck beard. I’m not sure which I prefer yet, but both guys still remind me of the middle-aged former Marquette stars that I used to see playing in rec leagues at the local playground while growing up.

2) Greg Oden continued to shoot his foul shots left-handed last night as his right wrist heals, and as usual, the announcers went crazy, noting that his shooting motion looked totally natural, and that if you didn’t know better, you’d think that Oden was a natural lefty. I don’t know what they were watching, though, because Oden’s form still looked eerily similar to the form that I displayed for a solid year in eighth grade after I got clued in by a coach that you’re not supposed to shoot with two hands (I wasn’t the most observant kid in the world). Like a young me, Oden awkwardly drops his guide hand far earlier than anyone using a natural motion would. I’m not trying to slam Oden, because what he’s doing is remarkable, and even though he looks like me when I was trying to learn proper shooting form, he’s obviously a much more accurate foul shooter than lots of people (with his off hand, no less). But let’s stop lying about how normal he looks doing it–he’s still awkward looking, even if he’s good.

3) I had a lot of fun watching Indiana freshman Joey Shaw step up and hit a few threes last night. Shaw looks like one of those guys that you just want to root for because a) in contrast to the Oden-White pair, he looks like he’s actually too young to be in college, and b) the release on his jump shot has this odd look to it, where it sort of appears that the ball is leaving his hand before he really wants it to. I’m sure that Shaw was probably some sort of high school all-American, and a dominant high school player, but I felt like I was watching that goofy kid who plays right field on his little league team succeed. And for reasons that I can’t totally explain, that’s always fun.

4) Great game point by Brent Musburger saying that Greg Oden defends in a way that’s mildly reminiscent of Bill Russell. While I’m too young to have really seen Russell play, the few snippets of old video footage that I’ve seen of him over time allows me to see the comparison. Like Russell, Oden seems to have a bizarre ability to jump and fiercely challenge shots without actually touching and fouling his guy. Sure, it’s probably crude to compare Oden to a guy who has to be on the list if you’re talking about who’s the single greatest basketball player of all time, but Oden did show glimpses of Russell’s best trait. What’s scary about that is that Oden’s not undersized like Russell, and seems to have more of an offensive game. (Great, now I just implied that Oden will be better than arguably the greatest player ever. I guess I just always get sucked in by hype.)

5) Nice to see Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis picking Wisconsin as the clear favorite to win the Big Ten during the halftime show. Even though I’m a skeptic by nature, and hate picking my own team because I hate the let down if they lose, I can’t help but agree with Bilas and Davis. (Not that I’d ever venture to disagree with Jay Bilas, anyway.)

6) I was reflecting last night on why I like watching Ohio State play so much. So far the only games that I’ve seen them play have been last night’s closely contested win over a fairly unheralded Indiana team in OSU’s home arena, and two losses (Florida and North Carolina). After watching the North Carolina game, I actually thought that Ohio State was invincible, even though they lost the game. I guess I don’t think that OSU’s invincible any more, but at this rate, they could enter the NCAA tournament as a 10 seed, and I’d still probably be convinced that they were going to the Final Four. They just have a great look about them, even if the results are often misleading.

That’s all for today, but it’s good to be back. Not sure what I’m watching tonight, but I assure you that the options are aplenty.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Hiatus Ends...Tomorrow

I meant to be back on track today, but after just about the busiest holiday season that I've ever had, I'm going to need one more day. The good news is, it's conference season now, where it's impossible not to find something exciting to watch on any given night. And I'm thinking Indiana-Ohio State tonight may be a nice way to start off the new year.

Back tomorrow, after I lug all the garbage from my New Year's Eve party out of my house...

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