Friday, March 28, 2008

It's Official

Well, it's official--2008 is the year of the worst NCAA picks that I've ever made. After a disturbingly bad opening weekend where I picked wrong on virtually every game that I had a question about (many thanks to Arkansas for letting me at least make one decision that was right), I had been clinging to hope that my unconventional pick of Tennessee as national champion would help me to get back in the game. But Louisville just wouldn't let the Vols get a lead last night in the game that I picked early on as likely to be the best game in the entire tournament (I was wrong about that, too). Here's hoping that Memphis can at least get to the Final Four so that I don't look like a complete idiot. I've already brought enough shame to my family.

Enjoy the Wisconsin game tonight--a win vs. Davidson just might take away the pain of my embarrassing picks.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Powerade Jam Fest: Can I Go Home, Already?

(Due to tonight’s broadcast of the Powerade Jamfest on ESPN2, I’m not naming players in my synopsis of the night below. I wouldn’t want to spoil the spectacle for you...)

Powerade took three hours of my life last night, and I want them back.

After weeks of anticipation, last night I headed down to the U.S. Cellular Arena to meet up with my buddies Dez and Ferd to watch the Powerade Jamfest, the prelude to the McDonald’s All-American game, and where the nation’s top high school players go to shoot and dunk all night. My anticipation quickly turned to boredom, though, as the event dragged on to the point that it ended with me looking at my friends after the last dunk and wondering aloud “Are we allowed to go now?” You might have fun watching things on ESPN tonight in a tightly edited one-hour package, but here’s what you won’t have to sit through:

1) An elongated video (with nearly inaudible sound) of past McDonald’s All-Americans talking about the importance of the game, and the great things done by the Ronald McDonald House.

2) Introductions and brief biographies of all 48 male and female All-Americans.

3) A performance by the Milwaukee King cheerleading squad.

4) An poorly conceived, impromptu mascot/military representative/crowd three point contest organized by Ronald McDonald.

5) Not one, but two performances by “Grammy Award-winning artist” Ne-Yo.

6) A performance by a gigantic inflatable Bango Buck, mascot of the Milwaukee Bucks.

7) The presentation of awards to winners of each actual event, with no audio to hear the interviews with the winners.

8) A small child dunking on a mini-hoop after jumping off a mini-trampoline. (I’m told that this was actually pretty entertaining, though I had taken a break to buy a soft pretzel at this point in time.)

9) Introductions and biographies of each of the eight dunk judges.

10) The tossing of Powerade promotional t-shirts and other items to the crowd every 15-20 minutes.

11) A breakdance team.

So yeah, it was a long, awful night. As I left the arena with my friends, I actually apologized to them for suggesting that we attend this thing. If you check out the broadcast of the event on ESPN2 tonight, here are some other lowlights to look for:

–Ever seen anyone go 0-25 in a three-point competition? One of the competitors in the girls’ competition does just that.

–Don’t expect to see both halves of the court used. It would have made too much sense to cut the time of the three-point competition in half by doubling up shooters during each minute of competition, or to give the 48 players warming up more than one basket to shoot at. I thought I was looking at a mosh pit when I walked in on warm-ups last night.

–Check out Sky Guy, the mascot for the Chicago Sky of the WNBA who made an appearance last night and is one of the most ridiculous mascots that I’ve ever seen. Sky Guy can best be described as a character who is 1/3 Mighty Morphin Power Ranger, 1/3 Duff Man, and 1/3 that guy at your gym who only works out his upper-body.

–If there are crowd shots, watch the excitement level over promotional t-shirts and other items drop as the night goes on and the arena become over-saturated with things that have been thrown into the crowd. I actually saw a few people get hit in the head by t-shirts last night because the crowd was so disaffected by the 20th round of “Here come the t-shirts!”

–Expect to be disappointed by the dunk contest. The winner’s actually pretty impressive in the finals, but the failure of the rules to allow for anyone to miss a dunk in the first round leads to some of the best competitors eliminating themselves early on for blowing a dunk (including the guy who throws down the best dunk of the first round). Because, you know, we wouldn’t want anyone trying anything too dazzling in a dunk contest.

So if you watch, enjoy the show tonight. I suspect that it will a be a lot more fun when it’s edited down to an hour. I won’t be checking it out, though. Powerade already stole three hours from me last night.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

2008 NCAA Tournament Picks

Well, today’s the day I’m unleashing my NCAA picks on the world. I did so for the first time last year, due to a large number of requests for NCAA assistance from friends of mine who mistakenly thought that I might have some sort of expertise that would help them win their office pools. As the results of last year prove, I’m no expert (and my focus on in-state teams this year has ensured that I haven’t even seen much of this year’s field play, so I’m just as clueless as most of you asking for my help), but I still have enough people fooled that there’s a need to have one place to direct friends asking me for advice. And that place is this post. Before I commence with my picks, a few general notes that I’d like to make about filling out an NCAA bracket:

1) Don’t just completely steal my picks (or anyone else’s, for that matter). I don’t mind it personally, but what fun is that for you? Think of it this way–what’s going to be more fulfilling to you: telling the guy in the cube next to you that you “totally called” Winthrop knocking off Washington State, or telling him that some guy whose picks you followed got it right that Davidson beat Gonzaga. Advice is great when it’s coming from your doctor or your financial advisor, but this is the NCAA tournament–live a little!

2) Don’t go crazy with upsets, particularly in the first two rounds. The NCAA selection committee knows more than you, and they’ve seeded these teams for a reason. Sure, you’re no fun if you don’t go out on a limb here or there, but picking 14 first round upsets isn’t just bold, it’s stupid. Yeah, you’re probably going to have a friend that picks that miracle 10-seed that made it to the Sweet Sixteen, and he’s not going to shut up about it. He’s probably not talking so much about the 5-seed and the 7-seed that he had in the Final Four who both lost the first day, though. My picks are notoriously and painfully boring, and I make no apologies for that.

3) Make some picks for goofy reasons. There are 64 teams in this tournament, and unless your name is Jay Bilas, you probably haven’t seen all of them. So go ahead and pick George Mason to win a game because you had a cool boss at your old job who was an alum, or pick against Butler because of that time you took a trip there and ended up annoyed because you couldn’t find anyplace within 5 square miles of the campus to buy a sandwich. After all, last year wasn’t your pool won by that guy in your office who just picked teams because of the attractiveness of their uniform colors? See, you need some quirks, too.

4) Don’t sweat your lack of knowledge too much. The last time I won a pool was well before I was a basketball-crazed fool, and I knew even less about the teams involved than I know this year. But by some miracle, a hunch about Yinka Dare, and another one about St. John’s led me to crushing victories in every pool I entered that year. So it’s not always about what you know. Sometimes it’s just about getting lucky and latching on to a center who’s completely inept when it comes to passing the ball.

So, after all that, on to the picks. Feel free to openly mock them, because this year's matchups have me less confident about my picks than ever before. Winners are in bold.



North Carolina(1) vs. Marginalized Play-In Winner(16): Okay, we all know that North Carolina's not going to lose here, so let me use this space for another year to state how ridiculous I think the play-in game is. Mount St. Mary's and Coppin State both won their respective conference tournaments and get rewarded by having to play a game on Tuesday night that won't have the atmosphere of the real tournament and that virtually no one will watch. They get the banner, but let’s not kid ourselves–whoever loses this game isn’t in the tournament. But gosh, I’m glad we’re kicking out one of the little guys so that Baylor can get an extra game or two in front of a big crowd.

Indiana(8) vs. Arkansas(9): Indiana’s got two of the most talented stars in the country, but that doesn’t eliminate the fact that the Hoosiers have been awful down the stretch. Plus, this is a great contrarian pick (with little risk in an 8-9 game), since I suspect most people will be anticipating an Indiana-North Carolina showdown of storied programs in the second round.

Notre Dame(5) vs. George Mason(12): George Mason is so 2006, and I'm pretty sure that Jai Lewis never made the NFL.

Washington State(4) vs. Winthrop(13): Winthrop's always in the tourney, and could make a sneaky play here, but it's tough to pick against an experienced and tough Washington State team that played in one of the most challenging conferences around this year.

St. Joseph's(11) vs. Oklahoma(6): I’m not going to lie, about all that I know about either team is that former Duke player Jeff Capel coaches the Sooners. Given my lack of knowledge, and the fact that my cousin Delonte (hey, he could be a distant cousin of some sort) played for St. Joe’s a few years back, I’m taking the upset.

Louisville(3) vs. Boise State(14): Before Louisville became Pitt's first major victim in the Big East Tournament, everyone was talking about how they were playing like one of the best teams in the country. Losing to a white-hot Pitt team doesn't negate that fact.

Butler(7) vs. South Alabama(10): I think Butler’s overrated this year based on the little that I saw of them. And they’re playing South Alabama in Birmingham, so it’s going to be a hostile crowd for the Bulldogs. Yet for some inexplicable reason, I just can’t pick against A.J. Graves and company.

Tennessee(2) vs. American(15): Tennessee's the best of the 2-seeds, and I don't even think it's a question. It's never wise to trust a Bruce Pearl team completely, but I’m willing to do it in this game. American should enjoy its first trip to the tourney, because it's going to be a quick one.


Kansas(1) vs. Portland State(16): My friend Jay used to work at Portland State. He liked it a lot there, but basketball wasn't one of the things he bragged a lot about.

UNLV(8) vs. Kent State(9): Knowing virtually nothing about either team, I'm taking Kent State for two reasons. One, I'm still bitter over UNLV knocking Wisconsin out of the tournament last year. Two, one of my friends who moved away in middle school landed in Ohio and went to Kent State. I feel like Mike would be a fan, and I want to support him.

Clemson(5) vs. Villanova(12): I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Big East show its depth here, but Clemson looked really solid in the ACC tournament. Plus, my cousin went there, so I think I’m morally obligated to pick the Tigers.

Vanderbilt(4) vs. Siena(13): Things I like about Vanderbilt: Shan Foster and the floor in their arena. Okay, there are a lot more than that, but that’s enough to allow me to take them over Siena.

USC(6) vs. Kansas State(11): I’m taking the Trojans out of pure self preservation. I suspect I would get violently ill if I had to watch Brian Butch guard Michael Beasley at any point if K-State were to face Wisconsin in the next round.

Wisconsin(3) vs. Cal State Fullerton(14): Like I said yesterday, if this one’s being played on a baseball diamond, I might pick differently, but given that it’s on the hardwood, I’ll take the Badgers.

Gonzaga(7) vs. Davidson(10): Davidson played close games with both Duke and North Carolina this year, and that’s why most people are picking them here. Me? I simply don’t trust a Gonzaga team that’s got David Pendergraft playing a major role.

Georgetown(2) vs. Maryland-Baltimore County(15): Baltimore and D.C. are pretty close to one another. If you lived in the area, where would you want your son or daughter to go to college?


Memphis(1) vs. UT-Arlington(16): I’m suspect of Memphis nearly every year they roll through Conference USA, but instead of hiding behind their crappy conference and talking about how they can’t control who they play, they put together a killer non-conference schedule this year, and forced people to respect their talent and record.

Mississippi State(8) vs. Oregon(9): Oregon’s looked like a different team every time I’ve seen them this year, so their inconsistency scares me. At the end of the day, though, Mississippi State’s head coach is Rick Stansbury, and Stansbury is where Jessie Spano wanted to go to college on Saved By the Bell. So I’ve got to go with the Bulldogs.

Michigan State(5) vs. Temple(12): I may like it when Wisconsin beats Michigan State, but I still respect the hell out of the Spartans.

Pittsburgh(4) vs. Oral Roberts(13): Pitt’s so hot coming off a Big East Tournament in which they knocked off Louisville, Marquette and Georgetown that not even God himself could stop them, let alone Oral Roberts.

Marquette(6) vs. Kentucky(11): My man-crush on Billy Gillespie outweighs my love for my hometown team, as a Kentucky team that looked dreadful until finally hitting its stride in mid-January keeps rolling.

Stanford(3) vs. Cornell(14): Cornell’s Ivy League foe Harvard has started letting Tommy Amaker recruit less-qualified students to his team, and Amaker cites Stanford as a school that’s a model of the way to have both athletic and academic excellence. Translation: Stanford would crush a current Ivy League team.

Miami (FL)(7) vs. St. Mary's(10): Miami beat Duke earlier this year, but St. Mary’s beat ESPN’s late-night west coast Duke-equivalent, Gonzaga. Not sure which way to go, but let’s take the little guy since I’ve always been annoyed by Miami football.

Texas(2) vs. Austin Peay(15): The school from Austin, Texas is playing a school named Austin. I think the committee was just having fun with this one, sort of like when I was in college and the housing department just “randomly” paired up two guys named Jesus and Moses as dorm roommates on the floor above me.


UCLA(1) vs. Mississippi Valley State(16): Marquette used to play Mississippi Valley State back in the early 1990s and they had some super-prolific scorer. They were still part of Marquette’s cake-walk of a non-conference schedule, and I’m guessing there’s only so much that’s changed about them.

BYU(8) vs. Texas A&M(9): You burned me after I picked you to win it all last year, Texas A&M! I’m picking BYU out of spite.

Drake(5) vs. Western Kentucky(12): I saw Drake take down Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Bracket Buster weekend. They’re legit. It hurts me to take out Western Kentucky here, because they’re always solid, and against any other five-seed they’d be a sneaky upset pick. But this year’s king of mid-majors isn’t going to overlook another mid-major.

Connecticut(4) vs. San Diego(13): UConn’s inconsistency is always maddening, and I remain fascinated by the ESPN piece from November about how San Diego starting forward Rob Jones (who's actually pretty darn good) is the grandson of the infamous Jim Jones. So I wouldn’t blame you if you took the Toreros here, but UConn’s tricked me into thinking that they’re playing well now, so I’m going with them.

Purdue(6) vs. Baylor(11): The Boilermakers beat Wisconsin twice this year, and I have to respect a squad that did that to my favorite team.

Xavier(3) vs. Georgia(14): All the respect in the world for what Georgia battled through in the SEC tournament–that took some serious physical and mental toughness. That said, my lasting impression of the Bulldogs from seeing them in Madison at the beginning of the season was that they’re not a real great team. Xavier is, so they’re moving on.

West Virginia(7) vs. Arizona(10): As with most recent Arizona teams, this one’s all dependent on whether their talent turns it on. Picking them against a Bob Huggins-coached team is a gamble, but hey, even I can't justify picking an entire region with no first round upsets.

Duke(2) vs. Belmont(15): Let’s get this one over early and get some minutes for Greg Zoubek, okay?



North Carolina(1) vs. Arkansas(9): Yeah, like that goofy-looking guy with the beard and the headband is going to be able to hang with Tyler Hansbrough.

Notre Dame(5) vs. Washington State(4): I want to take Tony Bennett and the Cougars, but I know how privileged I felt to watch Marquette beat Notre Dame twice this year. The Irish are a good team, and they're moving on.

St. Joseph's(11) vs. Louisville(3): Team I believe in fully, or team that I picked as an upset because I knew nothing about either them or their first round opponent? Guess I'll take the former.

Butler(7) vs. Tennessee(2): Bruce Pearl used to beat up on Butler when he was with UWM in the Horizon League. Now he's got even better athletes. Need I say more?


Kansas(1) vs. Kent State(9): Did you know that “Jayhawks” isn’t just the moniker of Kansas’ athletic teams, it’s the name of one of my favorite bands?

Clemson(5) vs. Vanderbilt(4): Sure, Vanderbilt beat Tennessee a few weeks ago, but Clemson’s playing better at this moment.

USC(6) vs. Wisconsin(3): My head sort of says USC, but my heart says Wisconsin. If this works out, I see Wisconsin up by 15 in the closing two minutes, and O.J. Mayo ending his college career by punting the basketball in frustration. And I can't just give up on that dream.

Davidson(10) vs. Georgetown(2): Davidson would be a nice Cinderella, but I'm not going down that road. I'll play it safe with the Hoyas.


Memphis(1) vs. Mississippi State(8): Bring back Erick Dampier and maybe I give Mississippi State a chance.

Michigan State(5) vs. Pitt(4): I want to pick Michigan State, but seriously, did you see Pitt in the Big East tournament?

Kentucky(11) vs. Stanford(3): Kentucky's lack of size is frightening against the Lopez twins, but their record has only gotten better as the season has gone on, and I can't ignore how well they've played down the stretch. Here’s my one truly insane upset.

St. Mary's(10) vs. Texas(2): No, I'm not a fan of Texas (though I’m not completely sure why, since they’ve got a stellar backcourt). Yes, they can beat St. Mary's. And when they do, I'll enjoy some Tito's Handmade Vodka from Austin's finest micro-distillery.


UCLA(1) vs. BYU(8): There are a few teams that are head and shoulders above the rest in this country, and UCLA is one of them.

Drake(5) vs. Connecticut(4): Even after the revolution of the past 2-3 years, I still don't trust highly seeded mid-majors like Drake. But I trust Connecticut over the past few years even less. Yeah, the Huskies can be spectacular, but they're also quite capable of crapping the bed.

Purdue(6) vs. Xavier(3): Look, I'm a Wisconsin fan--the Boilermakers handed my team half of their losses this year. I have to give them some respect.

Arizona(10) vs. Duke(2): Two reasons why Duke wins this one. One, they're embarrassed by their first-round exit last year. Two, I think Arizona's players are just looking to play out the year, be finished with Kevin O'Neill, and get Lute Olson back.



North Carolina(1) vs. Notre Dame(5): Notre Dame’s an intriguing upset pick here, since Luke Harangody’s ability to sell opponents’ fouls is a perfect skill to counter Tyler Hansbrough’s unbridled intensity. And I kind of want to pick the Irish here, but UNC’s just too good.

Louisville(3) vs. Tennessee(2): My two favorite teams in the tournament. Were these teams not in the same region, I'd actually probably put them both through to the Final Four (perhaps along with North Carolina, also in the East Region). But since I have to choose, I'll take Tennessee. Louisville's probably a bit hotter right now, but I just have a hunch about the Vols.


Kansas(1) vs. Clemson(5): This pick is not so much an endorsement of Kansas as it is an admission that I could easily see Clemson losing to either Villanova or Vanderbilt before this point.

Wisconsin(3) vs. Georgetown(2): Here's the thing, if I pick Wisconsin here, I'm going to get into that mindset where they're one game away from the Final Four, and I'm telling myself that fate wouldn't let the Badges miss if they're that close. I can't take that kind of heartache, so I'll take the Hoyas, who are pretty darn good, too.


Memphis(1) vs. Pitt(4): Pitt finally starts to get tired from beating everyone, and Memphis continues to silence people who can't stop talking about their positively terrible conference.

Kentucky(11) vs. Texas(2): I just can't take an 11-seed in the Elite Eight. So what the hell, give me Texas.


UCLA(1) vs. Drake(5): UCLA has all-American freshman Kevin Love as their most talked about player. Drake’s most buzz-worthy guy is Adam Emmenecker, a former walk-on guard who’s afraid to shoot 3-pointers. Yep, I’m going with UCLA here.

Purdue(6) vs. Duke(2): I've shown my respect to Purdue, but they're from the Big Ten after all, and I can recognize that the Big Ten just wasn't a great conference this year. I'm not totally sold on Duke, but I think their guards will carry them through here.



North Carolina(1) vs. Tennessee(2): Was it a bad idea when I named Texas A&M as my team of destiny last year and had no good reasons to continue picking them at this point? Yes. Does that mean I'm not going to do the exact same thing with Tennessee again this year? No.


Kansas(1) vs. Georgetown(2): Not crazy about either, but Kansas' ability to disappoint goes back further than its current coach, who has a similar reputation for bowing out too early. I'm crossing my fingers that we don't see another 0 point effort from Roy Hibbert.


Memphis(1) vs. Texas(2): Seriously, this is a 1 vs. 2 seed? Not even a question--I love Memphis here, even if the backcourt matchup is legenday.


UCLA(1) vs. Duke(2): Two great programs, two solid rosters, and two excellent coaches. I could really make the case either way, particularly since these are two of my favorite teams to watch each year. Since my friend Kevin and I were laughing this weekend about how we started out the year talking about Kyle Singler as if he belonged in the same conversation with Kevin Love, I'm going to go with the Bruins.


Tennessee vs. Georgetown: Well, seeing as Georgetown's sort of a default choice that I don't totally have faith in and Tennessee is one of the 5 or so teams that I could see winning it all, I'll take Tennessee.

UCLA vs. Memphis: Could someone hand me a coin, because I need to flip it. No? Okay, I’ll pick Memphis for the all-Tennessee final game, just because that’s fun.


Tennessee vs. Memphis: The Vols won last time, so why pick against them now. Who knew that their earlier 1 vs. 2 matchup would end up being repeated for the national championship?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Thoughts From Selection Weekend...

Well, it’s tourney time. I spent the bulk of my weekend on my couch watching basketball, and bracket analysis, getting in shape for next weekend when I’ll spend even more time on my couch watching hoops. I’ll have my NCAA tournament picks posted for all the world to see tomorrow, but for today, some thoughts on the weekend in general. But before I get to that, here are my gut reactions to the tournament positions of Marquette and Wisconsin:

–Very rough draw for Marquette. Kentucky was terrible at the start of the year, but seems to have taken to new coach Billy Gillespie down the stretch, with 11 of their 18 wins coming in the last two months. My man-crush on Gillespie is well known to you if you recall my tournament picks last year where I wrongly declared his Texas A&M squad my “team of destiny” and predicted them to win it all. Without question, this is the last 11 seed you’d want to see, and Marquette has a difficult task in front of them. And if they get through that, the Golden Eagles’ most likely second round opponent is Stanford. And I can pretty much guarantee that the last thing Marquette wants to see on their docket is a pair of seven foot twins. I’m seriously wondering if Tom Crean used to date the wife of one of the committee members, because

–Interesting draw for Wisconsin. If the Badgers were playing Cal State Fullerton in baseball, they might have a problem, but since it’s the basketball, I’m less concerned. Such is life for a 3-seed. And the second round will bring one of the freshman phenoms, O.J. Mayo or Michael Beasley. Mayo’s team might be better, but I’d almost rather see USC in the second round, just because the thought of seeing Brian Butch anywhere near Michael Beasley on the blocks makes me physically ill. Conversely, it might be fun to watch Michael Flowers chase Mayo around all day. With either team, though, it will be a game that people will be watching.

Now on to those lingering thoughts from the weekend:

1) It boggles my mind that someone out there actually thought that ACC singer guy that ESPN used for pre-game highlights prior to every ACC tournament game was a good idea. My theory is that the guy who came up with the Big Ten poetry slam commercial left his job with the Big Ten and started work for ESPN about three weeks ago. No one else could have come up with something this laughably ridiculous.

2) Very enlightening to hear from Billy Packer during Wisconsin's Big Ten Tournament semi-final game against Michigan State that Brian Butch was much more dangerous after recently adding a three-point shot to his arsenal. Billy may be old, but I don’t think six years ago when Butch was a junior in high school qualifies as “recently.” Maybe Packer was simply trying to make reference to Butch’s awful long-range start to the year, but if so, it was inartfully communicated, and just one of a number of times that my friend Kevin and I rolled our eyes at his commentary Saturday afternoon.

3) Lucky for me, I happened to catch the last several minutes of the Indiana-Minnesota game on Friday night. It ended up being possibly the most entertaining five minutes of basketball that I've seen all year. The Blake Hoffarber (arguably the whitest name ever) last-minute game-winning shot that's been on every highlight show known to man was incredible, but equally incredible was the preceding few seconds on Indiana's end of the floor. Minnesota's foul on D.J. White's putback to tie the game with 3.5 seconds left looked like it had turned a near-sure win into an instant loss. Then White missed his foul shot. The ball bounced around a bit afterward, and it seemed like the clock would run out until White miraculously came up with the ball again and was fouled with something like 1.8 seconds left. He again missed his first foul shot, leading me to wonder if anyone wanted to win this game. Finally, White made his final foul shot, but not before a string of three moments of failure by the Hoosiers and the Gophers that were each nearly as incredible as Hoffarber’s ultimate success.

4) I didn't see footage of Tom Izzo at Saturday's press conference after Michigan State's loss to Wisconsin until I was climbing into bed on Saturday night. I'm not sure I've ever seen a coach so emotionally spent and sad after a game. Had I not known what had happened earlier that day and not had sound on my television, I suspect I would have been wondering if one of Izzo's players had sustained a horrific injury, or that someone close to him had died. Izzo looked to be in worse shape than the survivors of tragedies on the program on the History Channel that I was watching just beforehand. I hate to see anyone feel that bad after a game, though part of me loves that someone can be so affected by a simple basketball contest. And my Izzo love is well-documented, so I hope he really can let go of this of this two days later like he said he wanted to, and put together a bit of a run in the NCAA tournament.

5) It was obviously sort of anti-climactic to have Wisconsin taking on the 10-seed in the finals of the Big Ten tournament on Sunday afternoon. What made that scenario even more upsetting, though, was that there was a definite need to go all-out to win that game. Losing to Indiana in the finals you could get over, but to losing to lowly Illinois in the conference championship game on Selection Sunday? That would haunt you pretty bad going into the tournament. So no relaxing on Sunday. Thankfully, the unthinkable didn't happen.

6) Add Trevon Hughes to Dominic James and Brian Butch on the list of guys who can really make you think and injury is worse than it is when they go down. Hughes was even more scary to watch, because seeing Hughes writhing in pain reminds you how little guard depth the Badgers have if he goes down heading into the tournament. (Even though you wouldn't want to lose either, James and Butch each have an army of little and big guys, respectively, behind them in.)

7) On Saturday night, my friend Peter, who has applied to New Mexico State for grad school, text-messaged me to inform me that if NMSU won their triple-overtime game with Boise State, he would go there for grad school. The Aggies didn't pull it out, though, so I'm still hoping that Peter gives more thought to UW-Milwaukee, because I know he'd be game for buying cheap Panther season tickets with me next year.

8) You know, I honestly don't mind that much that Marquette lost in the Big East Tournament, since I've become a big believer over the last few years that it truly is better to rest for an extra day or two than to plow through four games in four days. Tom Crean, who I rarely compliment, actually seemed to do a good job with limiting minutes for his key big men over the past few days, so look for a fresh-legged Golden Eagle squad on Thursday (and they’ll need those fresh legs against Kentucky).

9) Crazy as the idea that a tornado hit the Georgia Dome and wreaked havoc on the SEC Tournament, it was even crazier to watch footage of what things looked like inside and think that no one was seriously injured. For as much critisism as I've seen hurled at the SEC for how they handled the situation (moving the remaining games to Georgia Tech, allowing virtually no spectators, and forcing Georgia to play twice in one day), I can't argue too much with the action taken. You can't be prepared for everything, and having a major facility failure due to an act of God when you're on a deadline to get your most important games of the year played is not one of those situations that you should spend a lot of time beforehand crafting a contingency plan for. Yeah, forcing Georgia to play two games in one day on the home floor of the “other” team in their state was pretty obnoxious, but I’m not sure I could have come up with a better plan.

Like I said, back tomorrow with my picks. Enjoy going over your own brackets today. Only three more days until the best weekend of the year...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

State Tourney Wrap-Up

Well, it finally happened. Nineteen years after I went to the Fieldhouse to see Wauwatosa East win a state championship in the first ever state tournament game that I attended, the Red Raiders again hold the crown. I spent the weekend shuttling back and forth between Milwaukee and Madison, and enjoying games with various friends. My Wauwatosa-centric thoughts on the championship game, and the tournament itself below:

1) After parking my car on my first trip to the tourney, I began my walk to the Kohl Center. About 30 feet into my walk, I saw a store located next to the parking garage which specialized in selling Magic: The Gathering cards and comic books. I looked inside and saw 5-6 guys playing some sort of card game that I'm sure I wouldn't understand. "What nerds" I thought. Then I considered the fact that I was in the midst of taking a two and a half hour round trip journey and planning to forsake a couple hours of sleep later that night, just so that I could watch a bunch of high school kids play basketball. So I think I'm pretty clearly unable to look down at people who read comic books.

2) I've long thought that the high school state tournament was better the old UW Fieldhouse, a place that was much more intimate and would fill up completely, giving a special feel to high championship games. But I think I was finally won over by the Kohl Center on Saturday night when they darkened the lights, and played the video highlight reel preceding introductions. Absolutely awesome, and set the stage perfectly for an exciting final. Times have changed since the Fieldhouse days, and I think I finally felt that last night. I've finally truly embraced the charms of the Kohl Center.

3) It required some work to get out of the way, but there are few things that made me more happy this past weekend that watching student sections from winning schools stampede their way down the concourse at the Kohl Center en route to purchasing tickets to the next day's game.

4) Even after their loss on Thursday, the Eau Claire North team stuck around to watch more games over state tournament weekend, and were clearly visible on the concourse in their powder blue sweatshirts. So yes, I did walk by Evan Anderson and his feet are that gloriously big.

5) I listened to lots of the audio of press conferences covered by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this past weekend, but none more classic than the top one on this page, where Tosa East coach Tim Arndorfer and player Jake Barnett are interviewed following the division one championship game. The legendary portion of the interview is at the end, right at the 10:50 mark, where a reporter asks Barnett about the jump ball in overtime by leading with "Did you think you could out-jump him (Jeronne Maymon)?" You simply have to hear Barnett's tone as he laughs off the absurd idea that he could out-leap the most athletic player in the tournament and replies "No, I know I can't out-jump Jeronne Maymon." The room cracked up as he responded to the question, and so did I.

6) Here's the ridiculous lead for the Journal Sentinel's story about the division one championship game:

Goliath got tired.

And David was ready. Ready for the performance of a lifetime.

The Wauwatosa East Red Raiders shocked a Kohl Center crowd of 14,000-plus, a statewide television audience, their opponents - everyone except themselves - with a stunning showing that approached high school basketball perfection Saturday night.

Really? That's how Art Kabelowsky framed this game? While I recognize that there was a distinct buzz in Madison around Madison Memorial and Jeronne Maymon's breakout performance, Wauwatosa East wasn't exactly the downtrodden underdog that Kabelowsky paints them as. The Red Raiders were ranked third in the state coming into the tournament, had one loss all year (to a state semi-finalist, no less), and got to Madison by winning the state's toughest sectional. Had David had those type of credentials, I suspect he'd have put down his slingshot and given some thought to taking a swing at Goliath. And let's not forget that Oshkosh West's 34-point fourth quarter had showed that Memorial could be hurt. Memorial was undoubtedly favored, and their athleticism probably helped their popularity, but this was way closer to an even matchup going in than this story. It's laughable to frame a meeting between the two favorites of the tournament in this way.

7) Once again, my friend Nick, the guy that I sat next to for virtually every game back when we were in high school, takes a segment of his radio show to talk about our alma mater’s big win. Former athletic director (and Nick's dad) Joe Vitrano begins the segment with some astute observations, and Wauwatosa East and UW-Green Bay legend Gary Grzesk joins the discussion near the end of the segment.

8) Not that it needs to be said, but Jeronne Maymon's performance was maybe the best that I've ever seen at the state tournament. Perhaps the only better performance that I've ever seen was Julian Swartz's effort in the 1999 (I believe that's the right year) tournament, but even that was just one incredible game. Maymon brought his game and put up obscene numbers for three straight nights.

9) On Thursday and Friday I managed late arrivals both nights due to work, and upon my entrance each time, I was surprised at some of the bad fan karma on display by student sections that I was walking past. First was Brookfield Central. As I walked in around mid-third quarter on Thursday night, I found myself dodging my way around an astoundingly huge mass of Brookfield Central students in line for concessions. Maybe going to the state tournament has become old hat for the Lancers, who seem to be there every other year, but to me, the state tournament would seem an important enough event that you’d make darn sure not to miss four minutes of the game standing around trying to get a hot dog.

More egregious than Brookfield Central’s love of stale nachos, though, was the already-forming line of Madison Memorial students preparing to get tickets to the state championship game when I walked into the Kohl Center with 5-6 minutes left in their team’s game against Oshkosh West on Friday night. For a guy that freaked out during his high school days at a premature “Scoreboard!” chant, this sight sent chills up my spine. I’m willing to admit that Memorial’s lead going into that final quarter did seem insurmountable, but ditching most of the final quarter really was tempting fate. And Oshkosh West’s miracle 34-point fourth quarter nearly turned these excited early-birds into a deeply upset mass of students. In the end, the ticket-seeking Memorial students missed 5-6 of the most riveting moments of the tournament (aside from the small television that they watched from the atrium), but got off easy when their team pulled through. Here’s hoping that the Memorial students who stuck around to see all of their team’s game were the ones who got the best seats for the championship game the next night.

10) I got a text message from a friend at the Duke-North Carolina game just prior to the start of the state final game, and it was a weird feeling to consider that I may have actually been in the only place on earth that I’d have rather been than at Cameron that night.

11) Madison Memorial's excellent sophomore Vander Blue has a name that throws me off. After seeing such players as Logan Vander Velden and Dean Vander Plas on the UWGB squad back in the 1990s, I keep thinking that Blue’s name should be something like “Tim Vander Blue.”

12) After the close of the division 3 championship presentation on Saturday night at the Kohl Center, they switched the scoreboard to the names of the teams in the division one final. Only they briefly got it wrong and listed Tosa West as one of the schools involved. Either that, or someone was trying to do a shout-out to me, a guy named West from Tosa.

13) Prior to the state semi-final game, I ran into the mother of my childhood best friend and neighbor Andy, with whom I played basketball and football in my backyard pretty much every day growing up. She and her husband had been the ones who took me and their son to the championship game in 1989. Andy and I grew apart and began attending different schools shortly thereafter, and aside from running into her at a game or two earlier in the year, I hadn't seen Andy's mom in several years. But now Wauwatosa East is 2-2 in state tournaments during which I've seen her. So rest assured that the next time Wauwatosa East heads to Madison, I'll be looking everywhere around the arena to find Andy's mother.

14) Madison Memorial's final possession in regulation was pretty confusing to me. I've never seen anyone hold a ball deeper into the clock than Jeronne Maymon, who began his drive with just over 5 seconds left. At about the 6 second mark, I began to wonder if Madison Memorial was about to pull the ultimate badass move--simply holding onto the ball until time ran out and saying essentially "Screw it--you guys tied the game, but we'll just beat you in overtime." Thankfully, no one's that badass.

15) Congrats to first-year Tosa East coach Tim Arndorfer on setting the bar way too high for his coaching career this year. As great a guy as he is a coach, he's a fun person to watch succeed.

16) I’m sort of amused by the fact that like the 1989 state champions before them, this year’s Wauwatosa East team was pretty clearly not the most talented team that the school has fielded in the 20 or so years that I’ve been watching them. Obviously, neither team was what you’d call devoid of talent, but other years have included some frighteningly talented guys. But while both teams would probably land somewhere around fifth in terms of talent levels over the past 20 or so teams, both also knew how to get the job done, which makes me ooze respect for them.

And with the weekend coming to an end, I couldn’t have been much happier on my drive home. I’d seen old friends from high school and old basketball-watching friends from other facets of life, gotten to hand around Madison, one of my favorite cities, and topped everything off with a thrilling state championship that went to overtime before being won by my favorite team. All in all, not a bad state tournament weekend...

Monday, March 10, 2008

Wrap-Up Coming...

Yep, I'm behind as always. I've got most of my thoughts gathered and collected from this past weekend's high school state tournament. However, I'm still recovering from a crazy weekend, and want to finish up a few final reflections before I post my final Wauwatosa-centric thoughts on the tourney. After all, I was 11 years old the last time my alma mater won a state championship. If it's going to be another 19 years, I'm going to want to make sure that all my thoughts on this one are fully formed.

Back tomorrow with my reflections on the everything that I saw this past weekend.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Tosa East vs. Brookfield Central: The Rubber Match

Sleep became more important than typing up an update yesterday night after a long day. So just a quick lunchtime update today. Since tonight’s the third installment of Tosa East vs. Brookfield Central, though, and I’ve seen the previous two, here’s a link to my thoughts on the first meeting of the year, in which Central came out on top. I was apparently feeling particularly giddy that night, though, so there are only four points about the actual game. But take from it what you will.

And since everyone out there knows that watching Cory Degner and Tony walls run after one another will be fun, or that Jake Barnett is looking to get his shot back on track after a rough opening game last night, here’s two under-the-radar things to keep a watch on tonight:

1) Mitch Aprahamian: Central’s burly forward might not be the guy that most teams key on, but he hurt Tosa East with oodles of rebounds and putback points in their prior two meetings. Will his big-game success continue tonight, or has Tosa East devised a plan to keep him off the boards?

2) Emotion: Simply stated, I’ve seen two separate players completely lose their cool in the heat of battle during their first two meetings. Neither ended up being detrimental to their team, the first because it came largely after the game ended, and the second simply because the refs didn’t see what happened and assess a well-deserved technical foul. But losing your head in the state semi-finals is bound to have more dire consequences. I'm hoping that everyone keeps themselves in check tonight.

Here's looking forward to another classic. Oh, and in the early game I’m taking Oshkosh West over Madison Memorial in an upset special. I’ve not seen Memorial yet, since I didn’t have time to back the DVR up last night, so my ignorance is probably the only reason that I’m able to pick against Jeronne Maymon. See you in Madison!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

State Tourney Time

First off, congrats to Wisconsin on clinching a share of the Big Ten title last night. I grazed the game, but had some work responsibilities last night that kept me from getting a full viewing in. I guess it wasn't much of a loss, as Penn State failed to put up even a Florida Gulf Coast-like effort last night. But I'll take the title, and a win over hapless Northwestern on Saturday for the outright title would be even sweeter.

But today's not about the Badgers, it's about the other folks that will be inhabiting the Kohl Center--WIAA state tournament participants and fans. Festivities kick off today, and below are a few thoughts and links, all related to one of my favorite weekends of the year:

1) I know it's just a scheduling fluke related to a Kohl Center scheduling conflict, but I can't be more thankful that this year's WIAA boys' state tournament does not coincide with the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. Finally, I get a year where I don't have to choose between seeing the start of the Oshkosh West-Germantown game, or sticking around a bar to see if that mid-major knocks off Kansas. This schedule actually makes two weekends of my life better. I wish the switch was permanent.

2) Here's where I start getting obnoxious with excitement over my old school being at state. Fun fact--the last time Wauwatosa East won a state championship, back in 1989, their opponent in the state finals was Eau Claire North, who they're facing tonight in their quarterfinal game. Good omen for the Red Raiders, long-overdue opportunity for revenge for the Huskies, or simply a coincidence? (Side note--that 1989 championship game was the first state tournament game that I ever attended, and I spent 75% of the game with greasy hands from horribly over-buttered popcorn, and clutching my seat in the last row of the Fieldhouse with a vice grip, deathly afraid that if I tripped and fell, I would fall to my death, due to the frighteningly steep incline of the upper deck. Ah, memories...)

3) I just can't stop spreading the love to my alma mater, today. In honor of the Tosa East trip to state, here's a clip of the radio show in Green Bay that my best friend Nick from high school co-hosts, where he talks a bit about the constantly changing nature of the logo and mascot at Tosa East. Yeah, Nick's my friend from high school who ended up with the cool job. (For the record, I'm 95% certain that my older brother was the last person to serve as official mascot and don the ridiculous Raider costume.)

4) Much has been made of the fact that incredibly, this year's tournament field does not have a team from the city of Milwaukee. Here's some thoughts from the past few days from the perspective of a Milwaukee columnist. And here's a column from Madison that's slightly less bitter.

5) Parking's tough at the state tournament and at Badger games, and let's be honest, only rubes park in the big ramp that everyone knows about on Lake Street. Seriously, don't be a fool--the city ramp east of the Kohl Center that you can enter from Dayton Street or Mifflin Street is just as cheap, way easier to get out of at the end of the night, and is maybe one block further away that aforementioned lot that all the suckers use. It continues to boggle my mind that people aren't all over the Mifflin lot on game nights.

6) Time for my state tournament predictions. I literally know nothing about any of the teams outside of division 1, so I’m only talking about today’s division one games. A comment from my Monday ramblings from Phil Mitten, author of the ridiculously well-done Hoops Marinara blog (and a solid column for the Daily Cardinal, if I'm remembering the correct paper, back when I was in school at Madison) speculates correctly that Madison Memorial should be the favorite in the tourney, and that Germantown may be a darkhorse. I couldn’t agree more. With that in mind, time for my predictions for the quarterfinals. These should be horribly sketchy, given that I’ve only seen four of the eight teams:

Madison Memorial vs. Lake Geneva Badger: I've seen neither team. I know nothing about Badger, and never have. Madison Memorial's probably the favorite in this thing, though, with oodles of talent and plenty of experience at state, so I think the Spartans roll over the newcomers from Lake Geneva.

Oshkosh West vs. Germantown: This will be the best game of the day, as both teams definitely have the firepower to take home a championship. Making things even more intriguing, this is a chance to see arguably the two best big men in the tournament. Oshkosh West's John Benkoske will be joining former Oshkosh West forward Andy Polka at Loyola-Chicago next year, and my friend T.J. nearly wet his pants in excitement watching the way Benkoske played at the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook Shootout. Germantown's Ben Averkamp, one of the top juniors in the state, is a throwback who knows how to use his body and play like a real big man, and has a motor that doesn’t stop. It will be a war, and I'm setting my DVR for sure. No clue who wins, but I guess I’ll take Germantown. It’s like a flip of the coin, though.

Brookfield Central vs. Bay Port: I’ll be honest, I don’t know a darn thing about Bay Port. I hear they’re good, and I’ve been told they won their conference in a part of the state that rivals the Milwaukee area in terms of basketball competitiveness. Brookfield Central, as always, is smart, steady and capable of playing with anyone. Guard Cory Degner is something of a one man metaphor for the Lancer team–he may not dazzle you in any single way, but at the end of the night, he’s probably going to have a smile on his face because he’s beaten you. It looks like Central's second-leading scorer Luke Duckett is back from a late-season injury, too. Again, I don’t know enough to predict this one accurately. Most people are taking Bay Port, though, so I guess I’ll take Brookfield Central. Hey, someone needs to be a homer for the Milwaukee area, right?

Wauwatosa East vs. Eau Claire North: I’ve also not seen Eau Claire North, but everyone knows that their strength is their front line, with 6'7" senior Tyler Brown and the most recruited sophomore in the state, 6'11" Evan Anderson. Tosa East isn’t nearly as big, and already has had some problems rebounding en route to state, but they’re quick and talented at every spot. If Madison Memorial’s the favorite this year, the Red Raiders aren’t far behind. Look for Tosa East to get out on the break early and often, and for crafty Red Raider forward Brice Powell to get Eau Claire North’s big guys in foul trouble as Tosa East advances to the semi-finals.

My drive to Madison starts the second I finish up with work tonight, and hopefully will get me there in time for the second half of the Brookfield Central-Bay Port contest. Enjoy the games--I know that's what I'll be doing.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Marquette vs. Florida Gulf Coast: The Fun of November...In March!

Hard to believe it, but last night was the final Marquette home game of the year. Due to an odd scheduling quirk, that game was not against a powerful conference foe like Louisville or Notre Dame, but was instead against lowly Florida Gulf Coast. It sort of felt like one of those November non-conference games that are completely unexciting, only slightly worse, since those November games at least offer the intrigue of getting those first few glimpses of your team’s new line-up for the year. A predictable 29-point win resulted. There were a few bumps in the road, but it never felt like things were in doubt. Thoughts from my last basketball-related trip to the Bradley Center below:

1) Florida Gulf Coast point guard Rob Quaintance had shaggy hair and was sort of a dirty looking, unshaven fellow, prompting me to wonder aloud whether he was European (I believe the student section began chanting “Caveman” at him at one point). As my friend Dez pointed out, FGCU's uniform design didn't do anything take away from their guard's foreign vibe. Quite frankly, if I hadn't known the date of the game or the name of the opponent, I'd have assumed that this was an exhibition game against one of those traveling foreign national teams that they used to play a few seasons back.

2) Having a bad team for the last game has its advantages. The possibility of tinkering with some lineup combinations exists, there's a pretty good chance you're going to get all your seniors a chance to play on senior night (no chance Tommy Brice gets in against Georgetown), and attendance is going to be better than it should, since even with a crappy opponent, lots of people simply aren't going to miss the last game of the year. All of the above happened last night, which was good to see. Sure, the possibility of the most awkward senior night ever if Marquette lost was hanging out there, but if you can keep from screwing up, there actually seem to be a number of advantages to playing a cupcake in one’s final home game.

3) Some motivated defense came last from the Marquette guards, in particular Dominic James, who at times looked like he was doing zig-zag defensive drills on the man he was defending. I was amused to see, for the first time ever, two consecutive 5-second calls on FGCU guards who were basically being guarded one-on-one on the perimeter. Definitely a nice job by MU of keeping up the intensity in a situation where it would have been easy to let down.

4) Good to see the powder-blue uniforms out last night, and hopefully some of the bad vibes tha came with their one earlier appearance were forgotten, because they really are the coolest unis of the four sets that Marquette has. I'm even thinking of stopping off to the Marquette spirit shop to buy a jersey one of these days, and given my cheapness and the constant feeling of conflict about how much my allegiance to Wisconsin allows me to like Marquette, that should tell you how much I like the powder blues.

5) As my game-watching buddy Dez noted when we sat down in our seats for the last time yesterday night, one of the things to look forward to in what we expected to be a lackluster game was the running commentary of the guys behind us. Over my years of watching games, I find that probably 70% of the time you're sitting in front of people that you never notice, 25% of the time you're sitting in front of someone making annoying or laughably ill-informed comments, and only 5% of the time are you sitting in front of someone legitimately entertaining. So a big thanks to the guys behind us for falling into that 5%. I never spoke to you, nor did I even turn my head to see what you looked like, but you kept me entertained all year, and I sincerely hope that people find me and my usual basketball-watching friends as entertaining as you (though I fully recognize that my constant inane chatter probably puts me in the 25% group as an annoying guy).

6) Mildly awkard moment for me at the concession stand tonight as I bought a hot dog. The stands, as many know, are run by various community groups looking to raise funds for their cause. As I was hauling in my dog, the gentleman handing me my change thanked me for helping his church. That sort of took me by surprise, since no one's ever thanked me in that manner before. Since then, I've been feeling sort of bad because I had no philanthropic goal--I basically just wanted a hot dog. Nonetheless, to the friendly hot dog seller--glad I could help, and sorry if I seemed a bit gruff while accepting your thanks--you just sort of surprised me.

7) I've seldom seen a player go out on senior night as appropriately as Trend Blacklegde. A smattering of minutes, a minor impact on the game, and a random, jaw-dropping reverse dunk sprinkled in the middle of it all. Yep, that basically sums up what Blackledge’s career.

With the game in the books, and Tommy Brice taking his senior night garbage time minutes, it was time to leave for the last time this year. I’ll probably be back to the Bradley Center for a ridiculous minor league hockey game or something in the next few months, but as for basketball, it’s going to be another 8 months or so until I return and see a team of FGCU’s calabur facing off against the Golden Eagles. For now, it’s time for television and tournaments, as we inch closer to some of the most glorious weekends of the year.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Catching Up From the Weekend and Beyond

Lot’s of catching up to do today, as we enter into March Madness. I’ll be passing along my belated thoughts on my trip to Thursday night’s high school sectional #8 games, as well as my lingering Wisconsin-Michigan State thoughts (wow, I guess the Badgers must have really ticked off the Spartans with what they did to Indiana yesterday). But before I get to that, here are a handful of thoughts from Saturday’s Marquette-Georgetown game:

--I actually wasn’t sure if I was going to go to the Marquette-Georgetown game on Saturday. Yes, it is essentially the ticket that made having season tickets worthwhile, but it was also tipping off at the same time as the Milwaukee King-Wauwatosa East game, which was the defining rivalry of my youth, and still seems to be standing up as both programs remain strong. In the end, the excitement of the college game won out, but I had my friends Gus and Kevin feeding me text message updates of the high school scores as I sat in the Bradley Center. And the way both games turned out, I couldn’t have made the wrong choice. It was like having to pick between door #3 and what’s in the box, and there wasn’t a donkey to be found anywhere.

--I'd been waiting all year for it, and Saturday it was time to see the Zooperstars. I'd heard the hype from my friend Dez, whose brother somehow knows the originators of this halftime entertainment troupe, and my interest was heightened even more after reading an account by Kyle Whelliston about his chance to see the team on one of his many mid-major stops. I was not disappointed by the antics of Whale Gretzky, Monkey Mantle, and my personal favorite, LeBronco James. Pehaps the only thing that Dez and I were saddened by at the end of the half was the fact that we had not seen Clammy Sosa, and his routine where he eats a person, and then spits them out half-naked. But much to our delight, Clammy came out during a timeout in the second half to devour a faux referee. I think Kyle Whelliston's thoughts to the guy next to him when he saw the Zooperstars say it best: "If you're not entertained by that, there's definitely something wrong with you."

--It would be easy to dwell on the end of Saturday's Marquette game and talk about how the Golden Eagles blew a game that they basically had wrapped up. And don't get me wrong--I can't exactly excuse Dominic James' foul on a three-point shot at the end of regulation, or the team allowing Georgetown to run ten seconds off the clock on the Hoyas' final posession of the game (which is the real reason Marquette didn't have time to get off a reasonable shot at the end of the game). But in the grand scheme of things, it's tough for me to get too mad. Marquette's back to playing pretty good ball right now. As I've said before, they started out the year playing as well as any team I've seen in the Tom Crean era (yes, the Final Four team included). After a month of playing somewhat wretched ball, the Golden Eagles seem to be back to form. I think this is the year that they advance in the tournament for the first time in awhile.

--There are few things this year that I've seen that were cooler than seeing Will Ferrell on the Jumbotron leading a "We Are Marquette" cheer. Kudos to whoever set up that surprise.

--Nice game for Dwight Burke. And while I still think it's mildly crazy for Trevor Mbakwe to burn his redshirt year for a max of about a month and a half of basketball, he continues to impress in the brief minutes which he's capable of playing. As I've said before, I officially am giving Tom Crean a pass with regard to my usual complaints about how he distributes minutes to big men, since this year it is a complete toss-up with regard to who's going to play well on a given night. And quite honestly, even though we don't really know who the starter is going to be, I think it's safe to say that neither Ousmane Barro or Dwight Burke will find themselves inexplicably playing only 4 minutes in a Big East tournament game. That's progress.

--I'm pretty sure that it has been about four weeks since I've seen David Cubillan hit a three-pointer. I'm sort of okay with this, though, because he's playing fine in other facets of the game, and if he's not hitting shots, I don't have to watch him break into dance every time he rims one in.

--I recognize that this is by no means an original thought, but I'd have to think that if there was a guy who went into a coma in 1985 and woke up today to find out that Patrick Ewing Jr. is playing at Georgetown for John Thompson III, he'd have to be wondering if science had been doing weird things with genetics to ensure the continuation of college basketball dynasties. Not sure what this fictional guy would make of Jeremiah Rivers' presence.

And on to those high school thoughts (somewhat limited because all that I got to see was Sectional #8's session on Thursday night):

--Wauwatosa East may have won sectional 8, but based on what I saw on Thursday night, I'm still not sure which was the best team playing in the sectional. I'm of the opinion that there are years when the assembly of great teams has been even more daunting, but I don't know that there's ever been a year when all four teams were so evenly matched. I think the fact that there was a total difference of 5 points separating the winners from the losers in the games of this sectional speaks to that.

--Had there been one team that I might have suspected didn't belong in this sectional, it would have been Custer, who ironically had the toughest road to the sectional, taking out Milwaukee Pius to get there. And I would have been wrong in that suspicion. While I long believed that Custer coach Marc Mitchell benefited disproportionately from great talent finding its way to Custer (including DePaul star Draelon Burns) during the Cougars' last run to state, Mitchell clearly knew what he was doing with this year's team, a group that rebounded and played together well.

--God bless the Custer Cougar, one of the few live mascots that I've seen this year (not to mention the best dancing mascot that I’ve seen since Washington’s dancing savant of a mascot in the earlier part of the decade). I miss the days of showing up and knowing that you could see some kid with an oversized cartoon head and ridiculous costume trying to pump up the crowd. Why would schools abandon this?

--Upon entering the McGuire Center on Thursday night, I was impressed to see a number of large men wielding metal detecting wands. I was a bit perplexed when as any good concert-goer would do, I began to raise my arms to submit to an inspection, and they just waved me by without wanding me. I'm not sure if I should be upset that I don't look dangerous enough to be wanded, if I should be upset that they were apparently singling specific types of people out for the wanding experience, or if I should even be upset at all. After all, I only witnessed one incident where massive amounts of teenagers streamed quickly towards the epicenter of a brewing fight, and security quickly snuffed out that situation. A much different experience than I had a few years back at the Martin Luther King Day celebration at the Bradley Center, where teenagers streaming towards fights nearly outnumbered points scored. So score one for McGuire Center security.

--I heard chants from the King student section of "K-House" and chants from the Custer student section of "C-House." This sort of perplexes me, since I had always just thought of Milwaukee Vincent having the corner on the "house" thing by referring to their home fieldhouse as the "V-House." I'm not sure why I feel like "V-House" is any more legitimate than its K and C based cousins, though. I suspect it may have something to my friend Nick's brief idea that Venus Williams should go by the nickname V-House, an idea that predated Vincent's usage. It's tough not to latch onto something that catchy.

--With one of my more recent sectional experiences being my attendance of sectional finals at UW-Oshkosh two years ago, it's interesting to me to contrast the feel of sectionals at a place like Oshkosh with a place like the McGuire Center. Both are great, but in different ways. The Oshkosh experience felt more community-oriented, with massive fan bases with a clear interest in seeing their team advance, and everyone having a connection to a team. In Milwaukee, the respective fan bases were incidental, and it was instead packed with people excited to see oodles of basketball talent in one place. In other words, the Oshkosh sectional felt more like a large school version of Hoosiers, while good old sectional #8 feels more like going to an important AAU tournament.

--I’ve seen few shots more clutch than King guard Ed Reed’s game-winning shot against Washington. Thirteen seconds left, a hand in his face, and playing against their undefeated conference rival in a loser goes home match—doesn’t get much better than that. Of course, it did get better the next day when I read in the paper that King was basically just freelancing and looking for a decent shot, rather than running a play. So Reed saw that look on his own. Awesome.

--I can think of few state tournaments that I’ve been more intrigued by in recent years. There’s no overwhelming favorite. I’ve seen half of the teams in the field play (mostly thanks to the awesome Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook Shootout around the holidays) and can honestly say that of the four teams that I’ve seen, none is that remarkably better than the others. Based on the little that I’ve heard about the remaining teams, I think there are six teams with a legit chance to win this thing. So yeah, I’ll be spending some time in Madison this weekend.

--Not the same sectional, but I’d like to express my disappointment in not being able to get down to Saturday night’s Germantown-Vincent game at the McGuire Center due to a prior commitment. Not sure if I could have taken another barn-burner, but I sure would have liked to have given it a try…

And, we'll wrap things up with my way-overdue Wisconsin-Michigan State thoughts:

–What was with all the Michael Flowers man-love Thursday night? Don’t get me wrong, the guy’s my favorite Badger (along with Joe Krabbenhoft, of course), and I loved watching him bother Drew Neitzel all night. But Brent Musberger and Steve Lavin exuded an excitement that even I can’t work up about Flowers. It was amusing enough to hear them talk about Flowers’ draft position, despite the fact that I’ve never heard him talked about as an NBA prospect, but the assertion that he might play for the football team next year after his basketball eligibility is used up took the cake. By the first TV timeout, I was half expecting Musberger to drop in that a little-known fact about Flowers is that he’s up for the Nobel Peace Prize this year. Part of me wonders if the broadcast team had a bet to see who could go the furthest in heaping accolades on a reasonably good player.

–Maybe my favorite broadcasting gaffe Thursday night was when Musberger explicitly acknowledged a basket by Drew Naymick and announced in the sentence immediately following that Goran Suton had just scored the last 12 points for Michigan State. He did quickly catch his error and correct himself, but on the very next play credited a Brian Butch rebound to Greg Stiemsma, despite the fact that Stiemsma had just shot the ball from about 15 feet out and was nowhere near the hoop. Though to be fair to Musberger, Stiemsma, Butch and Joe Krabbenhoft were all in the game at that point, and it’s tough to keep track of that many tall blonde guys with roughly the same haircut.

–If you’ve DVR’d the game, I invite you to cue it up again, and go to the late 29 minute mark in the recording, where you can enjoy Erin Andrews sitting behind Tom Izzo with a goofy, fish-faced look, totally unaware that she’s on camera.

–Okay, I’d been out of the house and avoiding all media prior to watching my recorded game, so I’m floored by the news of the ESPN in-game update–Bobby Knight’s coming to ESPN to be an analyst! I see no way that this ends well. But I’m as excited as can be to enjoy the ride as the guy who loved to berate the media now becomes one of them.

–At one point in the game, Brent Musberger talked about how when he discussed things with Tom Izzo, Izzo always tended to protect his players when it came to dealing with the media. This threw me off a bit. While I’m a well-documented fan of Izzo, this is one area that I’ve found that he occasionally slips up. I recall being floored two years ago as I listened to a radio interview where he, in not so many words, called his team soft. I’ve rarely heard a team called out so specifically and so publicly. So excuse me if I disagree with Musberger on this point.

–Does anyone wonder what Drew Neitzel would look like if he actually decided to grow hair?

–It has been bugging me for awhile, but am I the only one who finds the Big Ten poetry slam commercial laughable? Not a bad concept (it works just fine on ESPN’s Who’s Number One?), but I feel like the white guy who’s one half of the poetry team is horribly misplaced. His line that comically ends with the word “blur” leaves me thinking more of a Saturday Night Live character than a legitimate wordsmith. And it’s made even worse by the fact that the other guy in the commercial actually seems really smooth.

Back later this week, as we get deeper into March....

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