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....


At 2:55 PM, Anonymous Ol' Roy said...

What is more confusing: Mbakwe burning a redshirt year to contribute in the last handful of regular season games and the postseason, or Keaton Nankivil burning a redshirt season to appear in garbage time throughout the season for the Badgers?

At 10:43 PM, Anonymous PeoriaBucky said...

The way the white dude in the poetry slam says the word "energy" near the end cracks me up every time. It's so dorky I can't stand it.

At 2:38 PM, Blogger Phil Mitten said...

Yes that Big10 commercial is a delightful train wreck. peoria is right on with that "energy" line. I envision the white guy off-stage sweating profusely and nervously asking his partner if he did OK.

Chris, Memorial's got to be the favorite, right? I think Germantown is sneaky.


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