Monday, January 28, 2008

Dying Rivalry Weekend

Lots of basketball this weekend, headlined by two rivalries that have lost a bit of luster in comparison to their glory years. First was Friday night’s stop at a high school game to see Marquette-Tosa East, which for the year, seems to have taken a break from being the area’s top high school rivalry. And Saturday evening, I stopped in on Marquette-DePaul, which was a huge game back when I was a kid and neither school belonged to a conference, but now feels just like another Big East game. I guess it's tough to single out our neighbors to the south, now that every conference game is a big game. Thoughts on those two games, as wells as some quick thoughts on the Wisconsin loss at Purdue below:

Marquette vs. Tosa East

1) It felt sort of sad sitting in the Marquette High gym on Friday night. In a rivalry that's the best I've ever seen, it was jarring to see a gym that was probably less than half full, and even more shocking to see the victor walking away with a 29-point win. There was little, if any, of the emotion that was the trademark of the great Marquette-Tosa East games that have taken place over the years, no fired-up student sections treading on the edge of inappropriateness, and virtually no fun. It feels weird to hope that Marquette can soon return to its former glory, but I sincerely do. Because rivalries as good as this one aren’t much fun when things are so out-of-balance.

2) I learned on Friday night that Marquette High does have a concession stand at their gym, something I had never learned in all my years of going there. They could use some marketing, as it's not exactly intuitive to find the stand in the basement, through a set of closed doors. For the record, my friend Gus enjoyed some popcorn, though he commented that it was a bit too salty for his liking.

3) Lopsided as the score in this game ended up, it was actually pretty close for most of the first quarter. The score was 10-8 in Tosa East's favor before a lighting quick surge in the final minute of the first quarter put them up 17-8 heading into the second quarter. That closing minute of the first quarter, along with a second quarter which saw the Red Raiders hold the Hilltopers to a mere three points is where this one got out of hand.

4) I hope Tosa East's Jake Barnett enjoyed his evening, because I can't imagine he's going to have another night where he gets as many open looks from behind the arc as he did on Friday.

5) While sitting in the stands, I looked at my friend Gus at one point and noted that we had gone to the wrong Catholic school that night, and should instead have gone to the Pius vs. Catholic Memorial game, which looked to be arguably the most intriguing game in the area on Friday night. Apparently Gus and I weren’t the only ones wrongly sucked in by the history of the Marquette-Tosa East rivalry, though, because when I opened the Journal Sentinel on Saturday morning, there was an article about the game we were at, despite the fact that virtually anyone could have told you beforehand that the game over at Pius would have been a more interesting affair (and yes, that turned out to be a great game from what I’ve heard).

6) The thing that impressed me most about Tosa East, just as it did the first time that I saw them, was their ability to pass on the fast break. Once the Red Raiders get running, they become totally selfless, and seem to have a sixth sense that allows them to find one another. It's truly amazing to watch players at any level make an extra pass to turn an easy layup into an uncontested layup, and the fact that this is happening in high school games is even more amazing.

7) I was totally amused to begin with by the Marquette halftime game of "What's In the Box," a Let's Make A Deal-like spectacle where students from the crowd had the opportunity to accept a Marquette-themed prize, or trade that prize for an unknown item in a cardboard box. But the game that I didn't think could get any more entertaining got infinitely more entertaining when the first contestant traded his Marquette flag and ended up with a basketball autographed by Vin Baker. A Baker-autographed ball is an odd prize both because Baker is somewhat infamous due to his alcoholism tarnishing his significant talents, and because it has been a long, long time since Baker's years with the Milwaukee Bucks. The latter fact was further emphasized when the winning contestant attempted to dribble his autographed treasure, only to find it flat and unbounceable. Makes you wonder how long that ball was sitting in a closet somewhere. But even without such an amusing prize, this was likely the most interesting halftime contest I've ever seen at a high school game.

Wisconsin vs. Purdue

1) A couple days ago I joked about how Brian Butch is prone to having quick injuries that take him out of the game for brief periods of time before returning a few minutes later. Well, Butch dinged himself up again and had to limp out of the game briefly on Saturday only to return shortly thereafter. If Butch and Dominic James were on the same team, it would be scary, since games would take three hours every night due to injury stoppages, despite the fact that no one is ever badly hurt.

2) I’d praise Matt Painter for his brilliant strategy of extending his defense to make even the easiest of passes in Bo Ryan’s offense tough to complete, if not for the fact that it’s the exact same strategy that worked for Duke earlier this year in defeating the Badgers. No doubt, Painter was smart to have his team operate in this manner, but rather than leading me to think he’s brilliant, I’m simply left wondering how so many others have missed copying this idea.

3) I’ve heard plenty of talk about the officiating in this game, and while I have to say that at times it left a lot to be desired, I think Purdue had more to overcome than Wisconsin when it came to bad calls. There were lots of non-shooting perimeter calls during the game, and while the calls tended to go both ways, such calls seemed, at times, like a direct attack on Purdue’s aggressive extended defense. So no complaints about officials from me in this loss.

4) Interesting to watch Wisconsin’s final possession, where they ran the same thing as they did in their win against Texas. And it was a great play to watch develop. Once again, Michael Flowers made a good decision, this time seeing that he could take his bigger defender off the dribble. I was sure that Flowers was going to tie the game up, and then Robbie Hummel recovered and made just an outstanding defensive play to block Flowers’ shot. Not the ending that I’d wanted to see, but you can’t complain too much when two guys are going at it, and you nearly see perfection on both sides of the ball.

5) My favorite announcer, Doris Burke, make the excellent point early in the game that Purdue is not only young, but their young players are all the type that are going to be good for a long time, but not good enough to jump to the NBA. If they keep playing solid ball like they did on Saturday, get ready for the Boilermakers to rejoin the elite of the Big Ten once these guys have some experience under their belts.

6) Exciting win for Purdue, no doubt, but I was a little surprised to see their students rush the court. Nonetheless, as a Badger fan, it’s nice to remain rush-worthy...

Marquette vs. DePaul

1) On the Marquette radio show on the way in, I thought it odd that the announcers were noting that the game was a sell-out. This seemed an unlikely game to sell out. DePaul's not an elite-level Big East opponent, Marquette was coming off an extremely rough two game losing skid, and truth be told, the UWM-Cleveland State game going on across the street at the same time was the more interesting ticket that night (I'd have been there if not for my Marquette season tickets). Even more surprising than the announced sell-out, though, is that the arena actually looked like it was sold out. As those that have been to Marquette games over the years know, it's not unusual to go to a game that's announced as a sell out, and see plenty of open seats in the upper deck. But the Bradley Center was packed to the gills on Saturday night, and I'm still not sure why. My only guess is a mass desire by Milwaukeans to get out of their houses upon the temperature rising above single digits.

2) I just don't understand why Trend Blackledge isn't getting minutes. He's looked decent the few times that I've seen the team give him minutes out of desperation due to awful post play. And though Ousmane Barro had a decent game on Saturday, it's clear that the guys in front of him don't have such a stranglehold on the job that there's no way to get him floor time. Last night it even looked like the coaches stopped as he attempted to sub in during garbage time, which led to an brief heart-to-heart conversation on the bench between Blackledge and Tom Crean. So color me confused at why he doesn’t see the floor.

3) Last I saw DePaul freshman Mac Koshwal, he was part of the Boys To Men Academy team that lost badly to a brilliantly disciplined Milwaukee Vincent team at the end of 2005. Koshwal's skills were definitely on display on Saturday night, though, and he's going to be a fun guy to watch for as long as he decides to stick around DePaul.

4) DePaul's uniforms are distracting because from a distance, the Blue Demons just end up looking like the Harlem Globetrotters, a fact that I noted to my friend Dez early in the game, and which my friend Dave pointed out independently of us later on in the night.

5) At halftime, Marquette football players from the 1940s and 1950s were honored, and I have to say, for guys that finished school in the 1940s and 1950s, those guys looked to be in remarkably good shape. I can only hope that I might look half as good as most of those guys someday.

6) For some reason, injuries always seem scarier at Marquette games, and Saturday night was no exception. Watching Jerel McNeal randomly run to the locker room in the second half was scary, not because there appeared to be any severe injury to McNeal, but simply because McNeal running to the locker room implied the possibility of an injury to the team's top player. Luckily, McNeal returned quickly and there was no indication that anything was wrong with him. Acker was a bit more frightening, because he went down at the end of the first half, and his body looked fairly limp as two guys carried him off the court to the locker room. But again, he played in the second half, so thankfully, there were no big injuries on Saturday night.

7) I was happy to see Wesley Matthews get some points last night. As I've often discussed, he's probably my favorite Golden Eagle to watch, since he's one of those guys that always seems to be giving a maximum effort (which makes him a perfect guy to play for Tom Crean, I'd have to think). You always like to see high effort guys get rewarded.

8) Perhaps the most entertaining moment of the night came when the game was already well in-hand. Late in the game, during a time-out, people sitting near me started to look behind them, towards an altercation in the stands. As I turned my head, I saw a fan in the stands yelling something at a DePaul sweatshirt-clad fan in a luxury box. To say that the DePaul fan was irate would be an understatement, and his anger nearly led him to be the first fan that I've ever seen leap out of a box and into a fight. Luckily, one of his cooler-headed friends snagged him right as he got one leg over the plexiglass barrier, and security eventually came over to diffuse the situation. And yes, there was beer involved.

9) While walking out of the arena at the end of the night, I saw a sharply dressed elderly gentlemen tip the usher for our section, which is officially the first time I've ever seen an usher at a sporting event tipped.

So it was a great weekend, and should be another solid week of hoops this week, which I may kick off with Louisville vs. UConn tonight, seeing as it appears that the Huskies are relevant again. Back soon with some more thoughts on something...


At 8:16 AM, Anonymous spv.austin said...

Next week's prize, a Mark Chmura jersey.


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