Monday, February 26, 2007

Wisconsin vs. Ohio State: Ugh...

Wow, big weekend. UWM plays UWGB and wins on a last-second shot. Marquette plays their old rival Notre Dame and various parties nearly come to blows, proving that the rivalry is far from dormant. And Wisconsin meets Ohio State in a rare #1 vs. #2 battle (even if Michigan State took some of the shine off of this one earlier in the week). I’m going to forego discussion about how Luke Harangody’s physical appearance hides how good he his, or the splendor of Paige Paulson’s last second layup against UWGB, and instead focus on the Wisconsin-Ohio State game today. After all, #1 vs. #2 is going to take precedence almost any time. I’m a bit dehydrated because of the tears that have been streaming down my face since the end of the game, but I think I can pull it together for a recap.

1) Has any explanation been given for Joe Krabbenhoft’s start in place of Brian Butch yesterday? Did Bo Ryan just get confused and put the wrong big, blonde guy in? Because it was a bizarre move for a guy who sticks to his starting lineup almost to the point of absurdity. Not that I particularly minded, since I’m a huge Krabbenhoft fan, even if he displays the kind of confidence shooting the ball that I did in asking girls out when I was in high school. (Feel free to consider Greg Oden's monster block on Krabbenhoft as a metaphor for my success with the ladies back in my teen years...)

2) I’m not sure there was a moment in the game when I was happier than when Trevon Hughes hit Jason Bohannon for his layup to end the first half. Not only was it great to see two freshmen come up big in a limited-time situation, it was nice to see Hughes and Bohannon helping one another out, when it would seem more logical that they should be getting in daily fistfights over playing time.

3) I missed the most gruesome shots of Brian Butch’s elbow injury, partly because I was looking away the first time they showed it (though I did notice beforehand that he went down really hard), and partly because I tend to look away on replays of things like that, as I am one of the most squeamish men alive. (Sometime maybe I’ll tell you about how as a kid I passed out at the movie theater during the birthing scene of "Look Who’s Talking, Too.") The collective disgusted groan of the crowd at the bar I was at told me all that I needed to know about the injury. And thus, Brian Butch’s disjointed elbow will now join Allen Ray’s protruding eye in my list of sports injuries that I never want to see. (Much like with Ray’s injury last year, any emails that I get with YouTube links will be promptly deleted, so don’t even try...)

4) Highlight of the game for me had to be the CBS crew catching Thad Matta as his gum fell out of his mouth to the floor, followed by Matta pickinig the gum back up, putting it back in his mouth, and continuing his chewing. Disgusting? Sure, but you have to admire Matta’s focus on the game, and the CBS crew’s ability to catch him doing something just one step above picking his nose. For a brief moment, it was almost as I was directing today’s coverage of the game...

5) You know, it’s a lot more scary to watch the Badgers play when they actually get someone in foul trouble.

6) When Greg Oden gets to the NBA, I think he should hire a personal groomer. While I’m glad that his awful neck beard is gone from earlier this year, today he looked like a guy who tried to contour some sort of thin beard, but then got bored and let the patchy stuff grow in.

7) Oden’s grooming aside, he threw down a dunk in this game that was so fierce that I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen as powerful a slam since Neon Bodeaux was being recruited by Western University. Thank goodness he had an affinity for traveling during this game...

8) I’ve liked Mike Conley all season long, but I didn’t understand how much until today. As a Badger fan, I felt completely uncomfortable watching Conley with the ball in his hands on Ohio State’s final possession. Not since Mateen Cleaves have I been that upset just watching a guy contemplating what to do. You know Conley’s going to come up with a smart idea and make it work. It’s annoying to have to say this about a freshman, and even more annoying when he’s not even the most hyped freshman on his own team.

9) While I understand why Wisconsin called timeout at the end of the game, I really would have liked to have seen them run it right back at Ohio State, as they attempted to do as the bench was calling timeout. (Seriously, I’m not just saying this because Jason Bohannon hit a crazy shot, not knowing that timeout had been called.) I’m a big believer in using the chaos that ensues following a late shot to get the other team on its heels, rather than calling a timeout, and allowing the defense to regroup. All that said, I think the suddenly-down-at-the-end-of-game timeout is something of a reflex, because even though I’ve subscribed to the above philosophy for as long as I can remember, I kept screaming at the TV for a timeout. This is why I could never coach.

10) I guess it merits mention again–the Badgers remain rush-worthy, chalking up their third opposing-fan court rush in four losses this year.

So that one hurt, especially since the game could have so easily been in hand with two foul shots, but I move on. It’s time to get ready for another insane week of basketball for our state’s fine teams, as well as the start of the high school tournament tomorrow. While the end of this week saw all of my teams limping towards it, the fact still remains that as of Thursday, it’s officially time for some madness...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

So Much For #1

Not much to say after that one. I had hoped to post a photo of me lighting Drew Neitzel’s Street & Smith cover in effigy last evening, but alas, the battery of my camera was dead. Nothing went right for me last night.

In any event, even though it undoubtedly hurts to lose to Michigan State just one day after securing a #1 ranking, I can still look on the bright side and see the following things:

1) Wisconsin has lost three games this year. Two of those games ended with opposing fans rushing the court, while the third was in a far-away location with a semi-full gym. It’s nice to be rush-worthy.

2) If it wasn’t certain before, I think it’s safe to say that Wisconsin and Michigan State are rivals. In my mind, in order to officially be rivals, there needs to be a general recognition of the rivalry by each side of the equation. And when a program as good as Michigan State takes time out to hate you, you know you’ve arrived.

3) I got to see a classic Michigan State team last night. It was a hard nosed, workmanlike rebounding performance last night. I still maintain that my favorite college team ever to just sit back and observe was the Spartans’ 2000 national champion squad. The ability of that team to out-work its opponents on the boards and get the ball back down the court at lightning-fast speed was unbelievable. The speed might not have been there last night with this Spartan team, but something tells me that Tom Izzo’s had the tackling dummies out in practice quite a bit this year.

So I’m down, but the Badgers will be back. The next two games will still be remarkably challenging, but I’m optimistic about Sunday. And as for the liklihood of losing the #1 ranking, I’ve always had a much bigger thing for #2 and #3 anyway. So let someone else be the top dog for now.

Back tomorrow, assuming I finish the recap of my ACC wild weekend.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

We're #1!

Well, the unthinkable has finally happened–Wisconsin is #1 in the AP basketball poll. I actually didn’t learn about this occurrence until late last afternoon, when an old college roommate of mine called to give me the news. As I drove home from the airport after an extended basketball-related vacation weekend, I got the one piece of information that could truly complete a nearly perfect weekend of hoops. My team is #1.

During my brief conversation with my old chum, we reflected on the days we spent watching teams that couldn’t compare to the current Badger squad toil away. In truth, our discussion of how far the program has come was fairly laughable, given the history of Wisconsin basketball. During my four years in college, the team went to the NCAA tournament three times. This is exactly three more tournaments than the majority of Wisconsin students over the years got to experience during their time in school. So as sweet as this ranking seems to me, I can only imagine what this feels like to fans who, unlike me, were around during the truly lean years.

That’s not to say that I ever expected a #1 ranking to be possible at Wisconsin. One of my favorite moments (I’ve probably discussed this one roughly 800 times before) from the unlikely Wisconsin Final Four run of 2000 was calling my parents after the Badgers beat Purdue to secure their spot in the national semifinals. A senior in college, I decided to call my parents to try and secure a grant to fund a trip to Indianapolis, where my team had somehow landed in the greatest event in all of sports. I had no plan of how to get tickets, or how to get down to the game, and I had more adrenaline running through my veins than ever before. I probably was not particularly articulate. However, I’ll never forget my father’s response when I asked if I could go to the Final Four. He simply said "You have to go–they’re never going to do this again." And if you remember the 2000 team, which barely squeaked into the tourney before going on their spectacular run, this seemed like a valid assessment of Wisconsin’s program. Time will tell if Wisconsin will ever be back in the Final Four, but the fact that Wisconsin now has a team that’s ranked top in the country is something that even I didn't see coming.

All that said, this is undoubtedly the toughest week that Wisconsin has had all year. Obviously, the Ohio State game next Sunday, pitting the two top-ranked teams in the country against one another will be highly anticipated. But I’m almost as excited to watch Wisconsin head to Michigan State tonight. The emotion that I suspect both teams will show should be at an extremely high level. Can you imagine how excited the Wisconsin guys will be to take the floor for the first time as #1. And perhaps more importantly, can you imagine how much Tom Izzo would love to knock Wisconsin off of its #1 pedestal after the pain that the Badgers have cause his Spartans in recent years? Should be a classic, and it’s not even the biggest game of the week. It truly is a good time to be a fan in Wisconsin.

Back soon with thoughts on my weekend basketball odyssey down south, where I had the chance to catch half of the ACC in action. Normally I’d be talking about how much better the ACC is than anything that I can see around here, but I guess I’m going to have to shut up with the Badgers in first. Never have I been so happy to keep my mouth shut.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Today's Random Thoughts

A couple quick thoughts for you today:

1) After noticing that Bernard King was having his number retired by Tennessee last night, I decided to honor King in my own way and pop in my video of his classic 1979 film debut, Fast Break. I only watched a bit of it, but I was reminded how implausible a story Fast Break is. While the number of times that one needs to suspend belief are too numerous to count, I think the one thing that I just can’t accept is that any team would actually respect the wisdom of a coach who wears cut-off shorts. That just seems totally implausible. The fact that that coach is Gabe Kaplan just adds further insult to the viewer's intelligence.

2) From the "patting myself on the back" file, here’s what I said a few weeks back about two of Marquette’s biggest keys to their success at that time:

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.

Yesterday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel cited Barro as currently being "Hot," due to his recent string of double-doubles, and cited James as "Not," due to his wildly inaccurate shooting of late. I’d link to it if the Journal Sentinel’s website wasn’t all screwed up right now. But rest assured, I feel vindicated (and perversely happy that early speculation that James would turn pro after this year is really taking a hit now–I’d love to have him around another year...). And luckily for MU, there's been a lot more to their success of late than those two things.

3) I can accept North Carolina losing to Virginia Tech, since the Hokies have a pretty good team, but I’m utterly perplexed by Texas A&M losing to Texas Tech. How does Tech beat A&M twice this year? This makes no sense to me.

4) For a quick high school thought--I can’t be the only one thinking it–given the massive uproar over the massive disturbance a few weeks back during the Bay View vs. Milwaukee Tech game at Tech, what happens should they meet in regionals or sectionals? Both teams are pretty good, and though I’d bet against it happening, it’s not totally implausible that they’d meet in the sectional final to go to state. Wouldn’t that be an interesting night at the McGuire Center...

5) When I hear that Duke’s out of the top-25 for the first time since I was in high school, I can’t help but wonder what former interim coach Pete Gaudet is up to these days...

6) Was the normally well-spoken Rick Majerus on drugs this past weekend when he called the Wisconsin vs. Iowa game. Because I’m pretty sure that I heard him refer to Greg Stiemsma as the Badgers’ second best outside shooter. Aside from that game where Stiemsma was knocking down 15-footers like his life depended on it, I can’t think of a night where I’ve been confident watching him shoot outside of 4 feet. Disappointing to hear such a horrific misstep from Majerus, who’s typically really well informed about the teams from his home state.

Back soon with more thoughts. This figures to be my most important basketball weekend of the year, so I should see some interesting things...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

My Shameful Admission, And Other Thoughts

I haven’t issued a formal announcement until now, but I think it’s pretty clear from my erratic updating over the last few weeks that I no longer have the time or drive to make this site a daily endeavor. I’d like to blame it on being thrown off track by Blogger locking me out two weeks ago, but the truth is that I haven’t brought my "A" game all year. My available time for writing is all but gone, I’ve been to something like one UWM home game this year, and I can count on one hand the number of high school games that I’ve seen. The shift in the way that I use my time really hit home last night when UWM-Wright State was on TV at 6pm, and Texas-Texas A&M was on at 8pm. It occurred to me that last year, this lineup would have meant me parking myself in my living room the second that I got home from work and not getting up until the final buzzer of the second game (after which I might have even watched some of the late Gonzaga game). This year, I caught a snippet of the UWM game, and just the first half of the Texas-Texas A&M game, choosing to allocate most of my evening hours in more productive ways (that still seem sort of incomprehensible to me). The life span of an obsessive basketball junkie is a short one.

But that’s not to say I’m throwing in the towel totally. I’m still out there watching games, and noticing the incredible (and intensely stupid) things that go on during them. Just this past weekend I attended two games and watched three more on TV. I just don’t have time to ponder them as much. I don’t want to go away totally, though. Every day updates are officially, as of today, a thing of the past for me, but I’m committed to still sharing thoughts at least twice a week. And today’s one of those days, so let’s get to thoughts where I don’t whine on and on about how little time I have to immerse myself in basketball for a third straight year:

1) I can’t say that I’m too enthralled by ESPN’s "Rivalry Week" offerings this week. If I’m not mistaken (and I often am), aside from last night’s Texas-Texas A&M offering, tomorrow’s Duke-North Carolina matchup is the only other "rivalry" game between two ranked teams. LSU-Tennessee tonight also has the potential to be entertaining. But while Ohio State and Michigan are undoubtedly rivals, I’m not exactly chomping at the bit to see them clash tonight (which probably means that they’ll play a triple-overtime thriller just to spite me).

2) Texas A&M has one of the uglier courts that I’ve ever seen. The two shades of parquet, including the huge outline of the state of Texas in the darker shade, is just sort of ridiculous. The feeling that I got looking at that court is the same feeling that I get when I walk into the bathroom in my basement and wonder "Who decided that it would be a good idea to use this much wood paneling?" Indeed, Texas A&M’s court is the outdated basement rec room of basketball courts.

3) The first half of the Texas-Texas A&M game that I saw last night marked the third time that I’ve taken time out of my day to watch Kevin Durant. If you’ve only heard the hype and not seen the him play, I urge you to mark your calendar the next time Texas is on TV. The guy is awe-inspiring. I realized last night why I find him so fun to watch–he plays with the demeanor of an NBA player. The NBA tends to frustrate me, largely because during most of the regular season, you see guys nonchalantly knocking down jump shots and generally looking almost uninterested as they perform astounding basketball tasks. While it’s annoying to watch 10 uber-talented guys look like they’re sleep-walking through a game because their skills are so well honed, seeing one guy do the same thing in the midst of a floor full of college kids who are exerting all their energy on every play is just impressive. Durant’s on another level from his peers, and he knows it.

4) While fun to watch, I can’t help but believe that the Texas-Texas A&M game would have been even more interesting had either team decided at some point that it might be a good idea to stop their opponent from cutting down the lane for barely contested layups. I know this is a complex point, but for the first five minutes of the game, it looked like each team was running Grinnell College’s defense.

5) Of the many points that I missed from the weekend, one needs to be revisited–Dwyane Wade’s jeresey retirement at Saturday’s Marquette game was awesome. Even a guy like me, who’s Golden Eagle fan commitment is no more than 75%, due to an underlying dislike of Marquette necessitated by my Wisconsin allegiance, can’t help but commit 100% to liking Wade. He’s a great basketball player, appears to be a great guy, and as he proved on Saturday, he’s one heck of a great dresser. I know there’s probably a small group of people out there who are unsettled because Wade’s jersey is being retired without him completing his college degree. Normally, I would agree with this sentiment, but I think an exemption may be in order when the player in question is a guy whose name would come up if you were arguing who the best current basketball player on the planet is. So I’m happy to see #3 in the rafters (even if the Wade figurines that were handed out at the game were pretty dumb-looking).

Back later this week with more thoughts. Frankly, I’m not sure how I’m going to squeeze in games by Marquette, Wisconsin and Duke-UNC on Wednesday night. But maybe old Chris will resurrect himself for one night and 6 hours of basketball...

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Wisconsin vs. Indiana: A Minor Setback

Last night was one of those games (Indiana vs. Wisconsin, to be specific) that I viewed at a tavern with friends. As per usual, the noise and general ambience of anything away from my home tends to draw my attention away so that it’s not 100% focused on whatever I’m watching. Who can concentrate with so many shiny objects around you? This typically results in my having particularly few game points. Today is no exception, as I continue the last several weeks of mailing it in:

1) The humor of the overly sensitive microphone on one of the hoops during the broadcast last night never wore off for me. The first time that I noticed it was when Brian Butch shot a badly errant three-pointer (when Butch misses, he makes it count), at which time I just figured that the loud, gong-like sound was due to such a long-distance shot clanging horrifically off the rim. There it was for the rest of the game, though, announcing every missed shot, and almost every made shot. While it was sort of annoying in the second half to hear a sound that seemingly announced the Badgers’ demise with every made Hoosier shot, I still can’t help but get a smile from minor technical snafus.

2) While watching the Badgers lose is never fun, when a team plays like Indiana did, I can’t complain too much. The only word that I can use to describe what I saw from the Hoosiers last night is "clutch." I wanted to hate Indiana, but I couldn’t help but marvel at their ability to hit both tough shots and big shots. D.J. White started off the game with two shots that it would have been nearly impossible to defend any better. And A.J. Ratliff seemed to do nothing in the second half but calmly hit big shots. IU’s already a tough place to play, and it’s a lot tougher when the Hoosiers are hitting their shots in key situations.

3) Kelvin Sampson’s appearance always makes me chuckle. Specifically, I always enjoy his typical dark blue shirt and tie combination. The only other place that I’ve seen this combo is back in high school when the basketball team was required to wear shirts and ties to away games. For most guys, this meant slapping a tie onto his best denim shirt. Not a look to strive for, but Sampson seems to like it. At least he’s not wearing cargo pants, I guess.

4) For the record, I’m about as big a Joe Krabbenhoft fan as there is. It is a thing of beauty to see a guy versatile enough to pull down a rebound, then start dribbling (competently) down the court on his own in hopes of leading a fastbreak. No outlet pass required. That said, could we find a way to get this guy comfortable with shooting? You know he’s got the ability in him, but whenever he puts the ball up, neither he nor anyone else has confidence in him at this point.

So it’s a loss. And while I still sort of don’t believe it, and I’m bitter about the fact that I’m going to have to scroll down an extra 4 inches to get to Wisconsin box scores on this week, due to a likely drop in the national rankings, it’s not the end of the world. There might still be a worse loss lurking out there, and hey, Wisconsin didn’t lose this one–Indiana beat them. I can’t get too bent out of shape about that.

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