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...


At 5:43 PM, Blogger Phil Mitten said...

My brain is still trying to comprehend the use of the ACC Singer. My nightmares sound like this: "Clem-son! Ti-gers! Clem-son! TI-gers! CLEM-son TIGERS! ..."

Good call on the Daily Cardinal ...


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