ESPN dubs this week of hoops as “Feast Week,” and last night was perhaps the high point of my own feast week. There was, quite simply, too much basketball going on. Due to an appointment that I had, I had to turn down and invite from some friends to take in the Carroll College vs. UW-Whitewater game. This hurt, since it’s rare that I can find someone to see D-3 hoops with me, and even more rare that someone actively seeks me out to join them for a game that normal people don't care about (not to mention it's not every day that Whitewater comes to town). I also had to turn down a chance to go to the UWM-South Dakota game (nice win, Panthers, by the way) due to my unfortunately timed appointment. Even ESPN had an embarrassment of riches, showing Marquette’s game in Maui, as well as Duke-Illinois, and Michigan State-UCLA. That’s five teams that I wanted to see right there, without even having to head down the dial to see Oregon on ESPNU, or Indiana (I’m likely the last basketball junkie alive who hasn’t seen Eric Gordon) on the Big Ten Network. Until March rolls around, this might be the deepest night of basketball ever.
So with my appointment breaking things up (and giving me a little radio time with Marquette), I took in a variety of basketball last night. Thanks to ESPN for making my night outstanding. My smorgasbord of thoughts below:
1) The Maui Invitational is a tough event for me to take interesting notes on because of the broadcast team of Bill Raftery, Jay Bilas and Sean McDonough. How am I supposed to make fun of dumb things that announcers say when these guys never say anything dumb? Thank goodness everyone isn’t as consistently excellent as this trio.
2) Marquette played with an energy last night that I’m not sure I’ve seen from them yet. Even after my endorsement of their abilities following the undewhelming Chaminade game, I still wouldn’t have picked them to destroy Oklahoma State like they did. But if anyone wants to wrongly believe that I called this one, I won’t fight you. However, just as I knew Marquette wasn’t as bad as the Chaminade game, I know they’re not quite as good as they looked against OSU.
3) On the radio broadcast, color commentator Jim McIlvaine made the comment that teams are going to have to re-work their game plans geared toward making Marquette shoot the ball from long range after the way that they shot it last night. While it will be something for teams to consider, I’ve seen MU have one good shooting night before, and it’s going to take a lot more than a hot shooting night in Maui before I start believing that shooting isn’t a big weakness still for the Golden Eagles.
4) Did anyone else hear the radio postgame interview with Jerel McNeal? Was he on amphetamines or something? Because I’m not sure I’ve ever heard someone quite so amped up after a non-championship game.
5) Hearing McNeal amped up like he was scares me a bit, largely because Marquette uses emotion to win games more than any team I’ve ever seen. And emotion can be a great thing. I think it’s one of the reasons that the Golden Eagles tend to fare so well in pre-season tournaments, since it’s easy to get up for a bundle of nationally televised early season games. Emotion keeps the Golden Eagles from ever really laying an egg against Wisconsin (and with one very notable exception, against Louisville). But emotion can have the reverse effect, too. I believe that one of the reasons that Marquette always struggles during their soft non-conference schedule is that there’s nothing to get excited about. It’s no coincidence that MU, despite having trouble with no-name opponents, blew their first major conference opponent out of the water. And using emotion all the time can wear you down. It’s one of the reasons that I think Marquette has struggled so mightily in recent years in the postseason–they’re just mentally tired by the end of the year. Remember this when MU goes 6-0 to start Big East play, and then starts looking vulnerable.
6) The radio team named Patrick Hazel 6th man of the game last night for Marquette, based on his contribution of 3 rebounds in 4 minutes of play. The rationale behind the choice was pretty good, though, as there were about 3 bench players deemed legitimately worthy of the award, and they just didn’t want to choose between them. So they just gave it to the random bench-warmer that got in at the end.
7) Props to Bruce Weber and his staff for really committing to Maui and going with orange Hawaiian shirts last night (as opposed to Duke and Marquette, who wore other types of casual wear, and Oklahoma State’s staff, who went with more subdued designs). However, were there any other viewers that briefly thought every time the dark spots on the front of Bruce Weber’s shirt appeared on screen that Weber was the victim of multiple gunshot wounds?
8) I think Duke is back to normal this year. It doesn’t have that much to do with their play (though there’s some definite improvement from a lot of guys), but more to do with the fact that I tuned in and saw Jon Scheyer coming off the bench. When the guy on your team most likely to just go off for 30 points on any given night is coming off the bench, you’re officially back.
9) I love the contrast in Illinois’ frontcourt. At one spot you’ve got Brian Randle, a smooth, versatile guy who looks like a team leader. At the other spot, you’ve got Shaun Pruitt, who somehow became a senior far quicker than anyone I can ever remember, and still looks somewhat like a big, strong, athletic meathead.
10) Well, we got the one obligatory comparison of Mike Tisdale to Dirk Nowitzki out of the announcers (I guess I lied about having nothing to complain about from the all-star trio of commentators). Do we really need to compare every tall white guy who can shoot and/or dribble a bit to Nowitzki? Tisdale got 12 minutes last night. Maybe we wait until he’s a started before likening his game to one of the better guys on the planet.
11) Initially, when the refs got between Duke’s Kyle Singler and Illinois’ Chester Frazier after Singler was called for a hard foul on Frazier, I thought they were overreacting. Then I saw the close up of Frazier’s face on the replay. Totally frightening. If I had to put into words what the look on his face communicated, it would be “I’m going to murder you.” Way to cool that one off, stripes.
12) Great quick piece during the game on how in addition to his team being hamstrung by injuries last year, Bruce Weber had to deal with his dog tearing its left ACL, rehabbing, and then tearing its right ACL and MCL, leading to further repairs. The things that I took away from this story are that a) Bruce Weber had a rough life last year, b) Bruce Weber likes dogs, and c) rich people can have ACL surgery performed on their dogs, and have them rehab on underwater treadmills.
13) Duke freshmen Kyle Singler and Tyler King appear to have basically the same closely cropped haircut. Is this due to choice, or some new freshman hazing ritual at Duke?
14) Switching to the UCLA-Michigan State game, is Russell Westbrook serious with his haircut? Because the menagerie of things that he had shaved into his dome made me think that he’s either one of the lamest guys around (if he’s serious), or one of the funniest men alive (if he’s not serious). Either way, he was on fire during the stretch of the second half that I watched.
15) I’ve been dying to see UCLA’s big freshman Kevin Love, and finally got to watch him for a bit last night before dozing off. I’m not sure how I feel about Love, yet. On one hand, it’s tough for me to not love a bulky rebounder with good footwork and a solid knowledge of the game. On the other hand, it’s sort of difficult for me to like a guy who has a thinly contoured beard that makes me think of the Dick in a Box guys.
I’d love to say more about the stellar UCLA-Michigan State finish, but the last I saw of it came as I was watching a postgame interview and realizing that I had fallen asleep during the last two minutes of the game. I guess I’m officially old. But I’m still loving Feast Week, and looking forward to a night of Marquette vs. Duke tonight. Does it get any better than knowing that two of your favorite teams are squaring off, and knowing that the next day you’ve got a holiday to celebrate? I would argue that it does not. Back soon with some holiday basketball thoughts...