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 And Alando Tucker, while great before, seems to have been replaced by some sort of genetically engineered super-Alando Tucker.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.


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