Monday, December 31, 2007

See You in '08

My lengthy absence has been due to one reason and one reason only: holiday madness. However, I've got lots of things to catch up on, including the Badgers ridiculous win at Texas, my trip to day one of the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook Shootout (which yielded many of my favorite moments of the season so far), and the story of how I accidentally ended up at the Wisconsin-Valparaiso game last week. (Marquette and UWM just had excellent weekends, as well!). But all that's going to have to wait until I have a chance to really sit down in front of my computer tomorrow afternoon. So, happy New Year to all, and see you in 2008.

Friday, December 28, 2007


It was a long and entertaining day of hoops at day one of the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook Shootout at the Al McGuire Center yesterday. I'd love to share my thoughts, but my schedule prevents me from doing so until the weekend. If you're reading this now, though, get yourself down to day two of the event. I can't get away for another basketball marathon today, but there might not be an event that I can more highly recommend. Pure fun.

Back this weekend, if I can catch up on some sleep...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Marquette vs. IPFW: Wake Me Up When It's Over

Well, we’ve hit that rare time of the year when basketball is slightly tough to stomach. Gone are the interesting pre-season tournament matchups, and the joy of simply seeing your team take the floor, no matter who they’re playing. Late December means that teams like Marquette and Wisconsin are in the midst of feasting on their sixth or seventh opponent who you’ve never heard of. And it means that exams will deplete the student sections and keep teams from going anywhere far away or doing anything too interesting. Usually I can look to UWM’s early start to conference season to act as a big pick-me-up right around this time of year, but the suspension of Torre Johnson earlier this week downgraded the Panther season from “exciting” to merely “somewhat entertaining to watch.” With things as mundane as they are now, the major conferences can’t start their seasons soon enough.

But the good news is that even if college basketball isn’t totally entertaining right now, it’s still better than most other things out there (particularly with that pesky writers’ strike keeping me from seeing new episodes of the ABC breakout hit “Cavemen”). With that in mind, I trudged down to the Bradley Center last night to watch Marquette take on IPFW. I’d seen the Mastadons take on Wisconsin earlier in the year, so I knew it wouldn’t be pretty. And it wasn’t. Thoughts below:

1) At least from where I’m sitting, Dan Fitzgerald looks like just about the most positive man alive. He’s been out of the lineup with an injury for four games, and during every one of them he’s been the first guy up at timeouts patting his teammates on the back and has been constantly yelling encouragement from the sidelines. I’m not sure if he should look into being a youth coach when he’s done playing, or if he should try to carve out a niche as a professional encourager. But either way, Fitzgerald looks like a guy I’d want on my team, no matter what game or other task the team in question is intended to engage in.

2) The IPFW bench, less than two minutes into the game, recorded the earliest technical foul that I’ve ever seen. Marquette then chose Dominic James to shoot the technical foul shots, which prompted my buddy Dez to note that times have changed if James is suddenly shooting well enough from the line to merit a being selected as the designated foul shooter in this situation. James then promptly clanked both shots off of the rim. Way to see that coming, Dez.

3) As always, I’m perplexed by Tom Crean’s handling of his big men. Early in the game I commented to my friends that Dwight Burke’s surprisingly good play lately could only mean one thing--Burke would lose his starting job and be playing 8 minutes per game within the next two games. Looks like we’re on our way there, as last night Burke played just 12 minutes, and on the post-game radio show, Crean complained that Burke hadn’t brought sufficient energy to the game or rebounded well enough for his height. That does seem to be the standard formula in benching these guys. Not that I minded the four guard, plus Lazar Hayward lineup (actually, I really liked it), but it still seems like the last big man who could feel secure about his place in the Marquette lineup was Bo Ellis.

4) Maurice Acker has quickly become the guy who my eyes are always drawn to when he’s on the floor. He always seems to be pestering the opposing team’s point guard with as much energy as he can on defense, and gets into the lane with great ease and regularity. Back when Acker originally announced his transfer to Marquette, I wondered how the heck they were going to use that many guards. Now I know that Acker’s simply not a guy you can turn down if he wants to play for you. The guy brings it every second he’s on the floor.

5) Kudos to the video production team for a much improved set of snippets where Marquette players address the crowd on the scoreboard video screen this year. For the last two years, we’ve had to sit through an awful video of Dominic James yelling “Marquette! Marquette! We can’t hear you!” as he attempted to appear as he was looking down on the crowd from the scoreboard, but instead just looked like he was talking to his arms as he flexed. But the players in the newly produced videos actually do a good job of selling the illusion that they’re looking down at the crowd. Much less awkward.

6) It only happened briefly, since it ended when Ousmane Barro entered the game following a made foul shot, but for 10 glorious seconds, my five favorite Marquette players to watch shared the floor. For the record, those five guys are Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal, David Cubillan, Maurice Acker and Lazar Hayward.

7) I was a fan of the big cardboard heads on display in the student section when they popped up a few seasons ago. But the unveiling of a new head that fans have voted for online at each game seems a bit overdone now. Last night I actually sat through the theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey” while Stephen Colbert’s head was unveiled. Perhaps a bit overly dramatic on the music, I think. Was there anyone in the arena who really cared all that much whose head would be on display? If even I haven’t been to that website to vote, I have no idea who is concerned with this issue this trivial.

8) The Golden Eagle mascot was wearing a Santa beard last night, which got me wondering--does Marquette make its own beard in that situation, or is there a company out there that makes oversized mascot beards for that niche market.

9) Tom Crean joked on his post-game show that he was going to leave Dominic James and Jerel McNeal at the Bradley Center to work on shooting free throws rather than let them return to campus last night. With the combination of their poor foul shooting last night, and Crean’s intensity, part of me wondered if that wasn’t a joke.

With yet another blowout win in hand, I walked out of the Bradley Center and back to my car. Amidst the conversation about the tricks my friend Dave played on his the foreign exchange student that he and his parents hosted when he was in high school, I kept thinking about how great conference season would be. After all, that’s why we sit through the IPFWs and Sacramento States of the world–to get to the Big East schedule. And if we can just make it through the holidays, basketball with be 100% fun again. In the meantime, I’ll just settle for 80% for awhile. Maybe a high school game would make me feel better...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Wisconsin vs. UWM: Everyone's the Home Team

I feel like I was cheating a bit last night. It was my first UWM game of the year, and I was excited about that, but I was admittedly there primarily because Wisconsin was coming to town. When my favorite team decides to come to my city instead of visa versa, I’m going to make the effort to see them. I didn’t expect a great game, and I didn’t get to see the most crisp game of all time, but it’s still impossible to have a bad time when two in-state teams are playing one another. My thoughts:

1) I did a quick lap around the arena immediately when I arrived, partly just so that I could take in some of the ambiance at my first live UWM game of the year, and partly so that I could get a glimpse of the always entertaining smoothie booth that offers the option of adding booze to your smoothie. To my dismay, I never saw said booth. Am I just blind, or have I lost the option to enjoy an orange dreamsicle smoothie with a slight kick during games? And if that booth is gone, how is the concession stand with the worst “Mexican” food I’ve ever had still around?

2) I developed an unhealthy love of media guides back in the early 1990s when they used to sell them at Marquette games and my dad would buy one for me at the start of the season. I would then spend the next week scouring every page for obscure facts. Sadly, I haven’t seen a Marquette media guide being sold at a game in years, but they’re always available at UWM games, so I make a point of buying one at my first game of every year. They must not be flying off the shelves at the MECCA this year, though, since the guy at the merchandise booth who I bought mine from first tried to sell me a program, and didn’t seem to know what I was asking for until I pointed at the stack of books that were slightly thicker than the programs. Then he asked his co-worker what the media guides cost. I’m hoping that I just confused him since I was decked out in red, and it would seem nonsensical for an opposing fan to want to know that much about the home team. But I don’t think that’s the case.

3) What has happened to intros for the Panthers? Just a few years ago, it was pure excitement. Highlight videos and well-produced pieces talking about not being satisfied with past success were the norm. It was everything that an introduction should be to pump up the crowd. Now during introductions, there’s just some music, and the player’s picture and vital statistics appear on the screen as he runs onto the court. Totally unexciting, and I have no idea why UWM doesn’t continue to jazz things up. When you’re not the most popular team in the state (Wisconsin) or the most popular team in your city (Marquette), you need to provide a little something extra in terms of entertainment. But UWM now provides a much more bland game experience, which is disappointing, since they were clearly on the right track a few years ago. (I won’t even get into how much I miss the Popeye’s rubber chicken toss during one of the media time-outs).

4) I was appalled at the weak attendance last night–lots of open seats behind each of the baskets, and it was a late-arriving crowd to boot. How does an arena the size of the MECCA not sell out for this game? If you’re a UWM fan, you get to take on your higher profile sister school to the west. That’s always fun. If you’re a Badger fan in Milwaukee, for once you don’t have to drive just upwards of an hour to see your team. Maybe I’m just confused, since I’m the rare Badger fan who was excited to buy a 5-game pack for this game, since I knew I’d easily get to 4 other Panther games anyway. But the number of open seats really did surprise me. (The one exception to this issue being the UWM student section, who showed up in numbers that I didn’t see all of last year. Way to bring it students!)

5) Just as a housekeeping point for anyone who’s young enough to be confused about me still calling the U.S. Cellular Arena the MECCA--that’s what it was known as back during its glory years. It’s an acronym for the Milwaukee Exposition Conference Center and Arena, though this fact was lost on me when I was a kid. When I was about 7 years old, I actually thought that all Muslims had to attend a Bucks game at some point in their lives. Hey, it made sense, particularly given Lew Alcindor’s eventual name change. (Perhaps more confusing to me now is why I was familiar with practices of Islam as a 7 year old...)

6) I forget which of my friends made this point, so I’ll just credit both Curl and Coth for noting that it’s not every day that you get to see two players from South Dakota (Paige Paulson and Joe Krabbenhoft) on the same basketball floor playing in a game that doesn’t involve a school from South Dakota. Making things even more amusing was that they were matched up on one another. Actually, Krabbenhoft did one heck of a job defending Paulson, one of UWM’s top scorers, as Paulson didn’t manage to put a ball through the hoop all night (his only points came on a goal-tend by Greg Stiemsma).

7) I missed this, as I was looking away at the time, but according to my buddy Coth, when UWM was honoring its apparently dominant women’s soccer team during one of the time-outs, they began showing highlight videos on the screen that showed not actual highlights, but just random video footage of women kicking balls during games. So on second thought, maybe it’s better that the athletic department didn’t put together a pre-game basketball highlight video of introductions. I don’t need to see shots of Marcus Skinner in triple threat position...

8) I’m legitimately questioning right now whether Marcus Landry and Torre Johnson might be the most athletic match-up that I see in person all year. I love Johnson’s game, and he’s come a long way since I last saw him play in person at Milwaukee Juneau high school. Back then he was little more than a leaping and blocking machine. Now he looks like he can drop in a mid-range jumper here and there, too.

9) I liked UWM’s halftime contest involving a race between three recumbent bicycles, but thought it lost some momentum when the third place finisher was eliminated and the two winners moved on to a free-throw shooting contest to determine who would take one shot for the grand prize. Is there any more boring promotional device than the foul shooting contest between two people that don’t know how to shoot a basketball? (Actually, that book-stacking contest that they used to do when I was a student at Madison was probably slightly worse...) Couldn’t we just let the bike race winner shoot the big shot, rather than muddling through something dumb for another 30 seconds?

10) The Klements racing sausages from the Brewer game were in attendance last night, and that’s always a nice touch. One problem, however–there was never any sort of announcement regarding what they were dong there, and they didn’t actually do much beyond ambling around and shaking hands with some fans. I love Cinco (the chorizo) as much as anyone, but could we at least give these guys a purpose? Maybe make them run suicides or something...

11) I’ll defend Brian Butch’s performance until the end of time, since it really bothers me that people still talk about how a guy who’s averaging 14 points and just over 8 rebounds this year is a bust. Regardless of how he looks while he’s playing, he still gets the job done. But last night reminded me of why Butch really bugs me sometimes, though, as I watched him repeatedly fall to the floor while banging in the post and then complain to the refs about it. You’re a heck of a player, Brian, so stop whining and play the darn game already.

12) Coming out of one of the time-outs last night, Soulja Boy’s “Crank That” (aka, the Bo Ryan song) came over the sound system, and the guy sitting behind me immediately started yelling “Overplayed!” I’ve got no idea if this song is overplayed or not, since I don’t listen to much current music on the radio. Coincidentally, though, I did come upon the song on the radio on my drive down to the game last night and came to two conclusions. One, it’s not a very good song. Two, despite the song’s shortcomings, it’s still an awesome tune to hear in a gym or basketball arena.

So, it was nice to get back to a UWM game, and nice to get yet another up close (well, not from my seats, but you know what I mean) look at the Badgers. I’m still not giving up on UWM yet–I think things should improve a bit once they get deeper into conference season. But either way, I’ll be back, if only to try and find the missing rum smoothie guy...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Wisconsin vs. Marquette: Painful, But In A Good Way

Well, Saturday was time for my favorite game of every year: Wisconsin vs. Marquette. While this game is a great rivalry based merely on geography and the high performance level in recent years by both teams, this is always a uniquely personal game for me. I’ve lived in two cities during my life, and these are the top level college basketball teams in each of those cities. I grew up a Marquette fan, going to games with my dad as a kid, and I have season tickets to the Golden Eagles today. However, after spending my college and grad school years at UW-Madison, the Badgers are the program that truly has my heart. It’s always fun to watch the two teams you pay most attention to, particularly when both are pretty good. And yesterday’s game, other than the outcome, did not disappoint me one bit. A few thoughts on my trip to Madison (thankfully, the timing of the game gave me an excuse to spend all day there) for the game:

1) No write-up would be complete without thanks to my friends Josh and Chris, who were my ticket hook-up yesterday. The most avid Badger fans I know, I was sad for them over the fact that they had to attend an office Christmas party instead of the game. However, I was more than happy to take their place at the game, and was somewhat comforted after Josh’s boss gave him assurance that there would be a television available to show the game at the party. Hope the party was great, guys. And yeah, you weren’t lying–that guy that you sit next to really does bolt out quickly to go for a smoke at the half.

2) This was the first time this year that Michael Flowers got the start for Wisconsin, a fact that somewhat concerned me. Undoubtedly, Flowers is a deserving starter. He did so all of last year, and is clearly one of the Badgers’ best players. However, the timing of the change initially worried me a bit. Bo Ryan has never been one to switch up his starting line-up, and it seemed like this change was geared towards trying to match-up with Marquette’s guard-heavy line-up. I’m seldom in favor of trying to tweak your own line-up to deal with your opponent’s style. It feels like they’ve already won something if you do that. That’s why I was happy to read post-game that the switch wasn’t an attempt to match up with Marquette’s guards, but is intended to be a permanent thing. Welcome back to the starting line-up Mr. Flowers.

3) A big thumbs up to the Wisconsin student sitting in the student section wearing a Brian Butch jersey over a polar bear costume. Absolutely classic. Steve Lavin had no idea what he was doing when he created that bizarre, non-sensical nickname for Butch during a broadcast a few years ago.

4) Also on the fashion front, another thumbs-up to my friend Beau, who I attended the game with, on his choice of a red sweater over a button-down shirt for the game. While his attire made him look more like he was going to attend a holiday party than a basketball game, I was just happy to see him in red, given some Marquette loyalties that he has. I can attest to the fact that Beau was red on the inside on Saturday, too, as he truly seemed to be cheering for his alma-mater in this one.

5) The best thing about this game? It was the first time I’ve felt real emotion during a game this year. I’ve sat through the early-season cupcake games for Wisconsin and Marquette, and never felt worried enough to really care. For the four minutes that Wisconsin was in the game against Duke, I was just too in awe of the Cameron atmosphere and overall game play to really concern myself with the outcome. And Marquette’s Maui games were in a far-away place on TV, no matter how good they were. But Saturday’s game was the first time that I lived and died with every trip down the floor. I think I may have frightened the guy next to me when I kept punching one hand with the other after Badger turnovers. But that’s what basketball’s supposed to do–make you lose partial control of your mental and physical abilities for a bit because you care so much. In a way, the season began for me on Saturday.

6) I wasn’t the only one with the adrenaline pumping, as the double technical on Trevon Hughes and Dominic James proved that the players were getting into it a bit. From where I was sitting, it was tough to tell exactly what was going on, so I’m looking forward to having a moment to review the television footage. Normally I’m not a big fan of scuffles on the basketball floor, but this was one time I was kind of excited to almost see things boil over. I felt like a hockey fan for a moment.

7) Every year it seems like something incredibly unlikely happens in this game that has a huge impact on the outcome. Last year it was a little-used Trevon Hughes getting big minutes and sparking the Badgers to a win at MU. Three years ago it was Chris Grimm inexplicably being assigned to guard Alando Tucker, and even more inexplicably, basically shutting Tucker down. And Saturday the trend continued, as Dwight Burke, Marquette’s starting center by default, put up 12 points, hauled in 8 rebounds, and looked competent shooting foul shots. I didn’t think I’d see any of those things out of Burke this year (particularly the foul shooting), and I’m still not sure that I will again, but for one night at least, he got the job done.

8) Here’s the thing that hurts most about this game as a Wisconsin fan–Marquette won this one despite not doing most of the things that I figured they would have to do to win. I assumed for a Marquette win, they’d need to get out and run, pressure Wisconsin enough to disrupt their offensive flow, and have a solid three-point shooting night. In actuality, there was a lot of halfcourt offense (I tend to believe that the high-scoring first half was more do to high shooting percentages than tempo, though I haven’t looked at stats to confirm this), Wisconsin was allowed to get the ball into Brian Butch and Marcus Landry on the block any time they felt like it, and Marquette shot the ball from the outside decently, but not spectacularly. Not to mention that Dan Fitzgerald, whose height and versatility would have been a big boost against Wisconsin, didn’t suit up for the Golden Eagles. On the flip side, it was nice to see Marquette win a game where not everything was played directly to their strengths.

9) I’d like to see more games like this out of Dominic James. And no, I’m not talking about his 20 points–I’m talking about him getting into the lane, dishing the ball, and somehow making Dwight Burke look like a superstar.

10) James and his backcourt mates seemed to have a particularly easy time getting into the lane on Saturday, something that would worry me a lot more as a Badger fan if not for the fact that there aren’t too many teams with Marquette’s ability to penetrate. Sure, Marquette exposed some things about Wisconsin on Saturday, but how many teams have the talent to exploit the things that were exposed?

11) Why did Scott Christopherson get into the game on Saturday? I know it worked out, since he drew two fouls that didn’t go against other members of his team, but I just don’t understand why he gets into meaningful games right now. I expect that he’ll be good eventually, but right now there are five guys better than him at the guard spots. You mean to tell me that those other five guys can’t cover the minutes for three positions for the entire game?

12) Better showing of Marquette fans at the Kohl Center than I had expected, given what a tough ticket this is. I even heard from a friend post-game that lots of the luxury boxes seemed to be dominated by folks decked out in gold. The standard “We Are Marquette” cheer at the end by the gold-clad invaders when the game was basically wrapped up was a definite verbal kick to the groin to me and my fellow Wisconsin fans. And it was the worst kind of verbal beating to take–one that’s completely fair, appropriate, and that there’s no great response to.

13) Showing that Marquette and Wisconsin fans can be friends, even at the height of rivalry, I enjoyed a post game drink with my old high school buddy Chris, a Marquette grad and rabid MU fan. Chris, who now lives in New York, had flown in largely so that he could see this game, so he’s serious about his fandom. Normally, some light-hearted taunting would have gone on between us, but after the game that was played on Saturday, we spent most of our time talking about what a great game it was, and how well the other’s team played. I think I owe Chris a beer, though, since he was first to the bar and did the buying, which one should never have to do after his team wins. Next time I’m in NYC, Chris, the first pitcher’s on me.

So with the game out of the way, and a few hours of post-game commiserating with friends, Beau and I hit the road and embarked on our snowy drive back to Milwaukee. Even with a loss for my favorite team, it had been a good day, since I’d finally felt the highs and lows that basketball has always been able to bring out of me. Truly a great game. And at the end of the day, things still looked pretty good to me. Wisconsin’s lost two games, but both are to top-15 level teams that played well against them, and I have season tickets to watch a Marquette team that’s playing better than I’ve seen them play in years. Things are looking up this year...

Thursday, December 06, 2007

I Am An Old Man

I guess I’m turning into an old man. I spent all of yesterday waiting for last night’s Washington State-Gonzaga matchup. When 10pm rolled around, I turned on the game and started watching. It lived up to every expectation. I was as mesmerized as I would have been while watching a team from my fair state. And then it happened–I fell asleep sometime in the second half.

Now, staying up until midnight, while something that I don’t normally do, is something that I should be able to do occasionally, particularly when a game this compelling is on. But I couldn’t stick it out. But I gave in to the temptations of my super-comfortable bed. I felt like my dad, who hasn't seen 9:30pm in years. Sometimes I don’t even know who I’ve become anymore.

Of course, falling asleep during the game also means that I didn’t finish my game notes last night, so I’ll just leave you with two quick thoughts that I can’t seem to shake from my head:

1) It’s weird having Andy Katz working as part of a broadcast team for a game, since you normally only see or hear him in his role as “college basketball insider” for ESPN, where he gathers nuggets of info for Sportscenter, etc. Last night I, every time he talked I was waiting for him to say things like “Sources tell me that that last assist to Daven Harmeling came from Kyle Weaver.” It’s not that Katz is bad or anything, it’s just that his role is so clearly defined that it’s jarring when he does something different.

2) The second half began with David Pendergraft, a crafty, pasty-faced redhead running a gorgeous back-door cut to score a layup for Gonzaga. That, my friends, is the essence of the Washington State-Gonzaga game. Slightly above-average guys doing phenomenal things.

Enjoy your weekend. It’s a trip to Madison on Saturday for me to watch the big Wisconsin-Marquette showdown. Pre-game thoughts tomorrow on that if I have time, but more than likely, I’ll just end up commenting afterward on my favorite annual contest.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Wisconsin vs. Wofford: Costume Night

With my errands for the night completed, last night I sat down with great excitement to watch the Wisconsin-Wofford game which I had DVR’d. My excitement obviously wasn’t over the game itself, since Wofford isn’t one of those teams that makes for a can’t-miss game. But last night was throwback night at Wisconsin, and I’m a sucker for goofy-looking throwback attire. And given that Wisconsin’s last national championship in basketball came over 65 years ago, goofy-looking was almost a given for the night. Thoughts below:

1) I’m officially upset that ESPN chose not to send their HD equipment to Madison last night. I understand that Wisconsin vs. Wofford isn’t exactly the matchup that demands high-tech treatment, but it sort of bothers me that the Rutgers-Maryland women’s game beforehand was broadcast in high definition when it’s Wisconsin’s throwback uniform night. I mean, if you’re programming ESPN, are you sending your HD equipment to the women’s game, or to record a bunch of tall, lanky guys running around in goofy candy-cane socks. The lanky guys? Yeah, me too.

2) Not a good feeling when ESPN2 cuts into the game one minute in and I see that a timeout has been called, neither of Wisconsin’s starting big guys are in the game, and the Badgers are down by 3. What the heck goes that wrong in just one minute? At least Tanner Bronson wasn’t in the game (though Jason Bohannon’s presence scared me a bit, given that the two have the same haircut and slight build...).

3) Brian Butch has officially perfected the "I just grabbed this rebound with one hand because the guy beside me tangled up his arm with mine" move. Much as I like Butch, I’m still glad the refs aren’t buying into his theatrics.

4) Wofford’s seriously missing their assignments in boxing out when Jason Bohannon is tipping in missed shots.

5) For awhile I thought the fact that Marcus Landry looked cool in Wisconsin’s throwback socks meant that he could make anything look cool. Then I noticed that the only other guy on the floor who looked sort of cool in the socks was Joe Krabbenhoft. So now I’m just thinking that a height of 6'7" is the sweet spot for this particular item of clothing.

6) After watching a handful of other teams over the last few days, the end of first half of last night’s game illuminated to me what’s so weird about watching Wisconsin play. Obviously Wofford wasn’t particularly great at shooting the ball, or well, even keeping from turning the ball over. But I still looked up at the end of the half and was surprised to see Wisconsin up by 18. With most of the other teams that I enjoy watching play, you know when they’re burying an opponent. For instance, when Marquette started raining three-pointers on UWM the other night, you knew it was on. But with Wisconsin, you just sort of watch them hit layups and forget that those are also worth points. It’s so obvious that it’s almost sneaky.

7) Congrats to Corey Godzinski for fouling out with 18:33 to play, and becoming the earliest fouled-out player that I’ve ever seen. I can’t imagine it was fun for anyone on the Wofford team being down 17 points and seeing their top scorer exiled to the sidelines.

8) I’ve got to agree with color commentator Stephen Bardo on the Greg Stiemsma-Junior Salters altercation: it looked like an unbelievably dirty move by Stiemsma. I can’t even figure out how to defend that one. I hope the coaches lay into Stiemsma for that one.

9) I enjoyed the foul shooting form of Wofford’s Noah Dahlman, or as I now like to call him, “basketball Julio Franco.”

10) I’m sure Brian Butch’s mother greatly appreciates the lengths that the ESPN announcers took to talk about the fact that she was biting her nails while on camera. At one point, I think Stephen Bardo stopped just short of saying “The game is so out of hand that Nancy Butch can’t possibly be nervously biting her nails, so she must just have a filthy habit.” Let that be a lesson to all you parents of division one athletes–be on your best behavior when ESPN’s in town.

11) The jury’s still out on what Wisconsin can do against high calabur teams, but I do at least appreciate that the Badgers resoundingly take care of their business against teams that they’re supposed to beat. It makes the non-conference season so much less stressful.

And with Wofford disposed of, that means that both Wisconsin and Marquette are free to focus on their showdown this Saturday. Always one of the highlights of my year, this one should be extra-interesting, as it presents the Golden Eagles’ best chance in some time at stealing a game at the Kohl Center. And who doesn’t love the classic big guys vs. quick guards match-up. So until Saturday, I’ll be working hard to distract myself so that I don’t spend all my time thinking about the game. I’m thinking that tomorrow night’s contest between my adopted west coast team (Tony Bennett’s Washington State Cougars) and ESPN’s west coast darling (Gonzaga) should be at least one excellent distraction. Until later...

Monday, December 03, 2007

Golden Eagles, Panther and Value

Friday night had been on my calendar for some time. I’d waited a long time to see Marquette and UWM play one another, and the wait had seemed to make it worthwhile. While seeing a couple of in-state teams play one another is always slightly more fun, the fact that we had two teams in the same city that hadn’t played one another in nine years, and had developed a healthy dislike of one another in negotiating a deal to resume the series made things all the more exciting. This night had been circled on my calendar for a long time, and I had eyed up the game ticket in my Marquette season ticket book several times in the last few weeks. That’s why it hurt so badly when I couldn’t go to the game. Friday night I was still in recovery from arguably the most agonizing night of my life on Thursday. I don’t know what the odds are of a man contracting food poisoning on the same night that his furnace goes out, but I’ apparently one to beat the odds. So rather than finding my way to the Bradley Center on Friday night, I spent it on my couch (post-furnace repair), trying to remain lucid and sipping from a cool glass of ginger ale while I watched the game on TV.

Rather than talk about game points today (which might be tough, since I wasn’t all there while watching this one), though, I’d like to talk about the value of the MU-UWM series. I know there are people out there questioning how useful this series of games is after a night where UWM closed out the game looking like I did at 3am on Friday as I collapsed on my floor with roughly 3 ounces of fluid in my body, unable to walk the 15 feet from my bathroom back to my bed. But even though this game ended up being a 35-point drubbing, I think that there’s a lot about this series that’s beneficial. And that’s what I’d like to talk about.

Let’s start with the easy one–how does this help UWM? This game is all about raising UWM’s profile. The Panthers are a team that spends most of its time playing across the street from Marquette’s home to crowds of 3,500 fans per game. Games are fun, but with crowds like they’re drawing, they’re also somewhat of a niche product. The program’s light years away from where it was when I was growing up, the team had no TV deal, and there was only a vague recognition by anyone in Milwaukee that UWM even had a team (even I never saw a Steve Antrim-coached UWM team), but it still needs all the exposure it can get. And the Marquette game can help with that. Would it have been great if UWM had been playing Marquette a few years ago when the Panthers arguably had a couple of years where they had better teams? Certainly, but that’s not the point. Playing a more high-profile local program is always going to get more people thinking about UWM. Even with Friday night’s embarrassing loss, I’m sure there was at least one person out there who previously was unaware that Torre Johnson’s path from Milwaukee Juneau High had led him back to UWM. And that’s one person who might check out a UWM game sometime. That’s a win, no matter what the score of the game was. And hey, it’s pretty unlikely that these are all going to be awful 35-point losses for UWM as the series plays out. Teams like this take the lumps so teams like the sweet-16 UWM teams can get its chance to play in this series.

And Marquette–how do they benefit? I think the biggest thing about this game is that it’s something different from the usual early-season batch of cupcake teams that come to the Bradley Center every year. I don’t begrudge Marquette for bringing a parade of no-names through town during the non-conference season. Tom Crean gets slammed for his soft non-conference schedule constantly, but it’s not like he’s the first coach to do this at Marquette. Back in the early 1990s, Kevin O’Neill used to have a non-conference schedule that make today’s schedules look super-challenging by comparison. And O’Neill didn’t even have the Big East to pick up the excitement during conference season. So I have to believe that early soft scheduling is something that there’s just no good way to get away from at MU.

But when UWM comes to play, whether they put up a fight or not, there’s something for the team and the fans to get excited about. Owning the city might be something that Marquette expects to do, but the team’s still probably going to be amped up about going out to do it. And when you add in the dislike between programs, the adrenaline starts pumping a bit more. I’ve seen Marquette sleepwalk through games against the Bethune-Cookman’s and Utah Valley States of the world. I think they’re better off going out primed to crush an annoying thorn in their side like UWM, and as a fan, I know I’m going to enjoy that much more. Sure, I know Marquette fans aren’t out there clamoring for a game against UWM, but after all that’s gone on over the last couple years, any die-hard MU fan who says he doesn’t care just a little bit more about sticking it to UWM is as full of crap as Wisconsin fans who say that Marquette isn’t a rival (yeah, lots of things on fan boards make me laugh). At best you get a chance to rub something in your opponent's face. At worst you get a decent game. Sounds okay to me.

As for this past Friday’s game, kudos to Marquette for taking it to UWM. Personally, I’d have loved to have seen a more competitive game, but when the Panther starters start heading to the bench after committing bad reach-in fouls and Paige Paulsen can’t breathe because Wesley Matthews is bothering him so much on defense, I can’t help but be impressed. That’s the killer instinct that I want to see from Marquette every night. UWM’s better than they showed on Friday, but when you run into a super-talented team that’s extra motivated, sometimes things aren’t going to end well.

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