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.