Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Tournament That Wouldn't End

It was 11:07pm last night when I saw one of the most upsetting things I'd seen all night. I glanced at the scoreboard in the Wisconsin Lutheran College fieldhouse and saw that there were about two and a half minutes left in a close game between Milwaukee Bradley Tech and Wauwatosa East, and that between them, both teams had 7 timeouts remaining. An already long night was about to get longer. I left the gymnasium about 10 minutes later, after Tech pulled themselves within 7 points of Tosa East (who had gone on a run in the previous two minutes) with 15 seconds left on the clock, and promptly called time out. I assumed that Tosa East wouldn't find a way to give three possessions to Tech in the ensuing 15 seconds and that it was safe to exit early.

I love holiday tournaments, and think that the City/Suburban Holiday Classic is a particularly brilliant idea, but here's a memo to the prospective organizers of any future high school tournament--games don't fit as neatly as you think into that one and a half hour time period that you've blocked off for each game. The games themselves might last that long, but when you factor in warm-ups for each game, it would be shocking to see four back to back games start and finish within a 6-hour window. Case in point--last night's festivities featured four games (and keep in mind that warm-up periods, at least for the two games that I saw, were abbreviated from 20 minutes to 15 minutes) that started at 4:30pm and ended just before 11:30pm. 11:30pm was my weekend curfew until my senior year of high school. Here's a good rule of thumb--if a sophomore couldn't sit through the entire game without asking special permission from his/her parents, you're starting the game too late.

So the final game of the night tipped at 9:55pm, predictably almost an hour late. I got to sit through two and a half games (half of Milwaukee King-Kettle Moraine, and all of Milwaukee Custer-Hartland Arrowhead and the aforementioned Tech-Tosa East). Afterward, despite the entertainment, I was more than happy to head home. Some notes on the tourney below:

1) It's tough to get a good program put together for an early season tournament, since up until about a week ago, most rosters probably weren't set. The program handed out at the tournament last night was no exception. There was some guessing to be done on player identities for Milwaukee Custer, as only half of their players had numbers listed. This was still better than Arrowhead's profile, which simply read "Roster to be determined..."

2) During the King-Kettle Moraine game, I immediately tried to identify Ed Reed and Silas Mills, the two King players that I remembered from last season. The impressive Reed was easy to identify, but Mills was a tougher find. It was only later in the half that I would notice him sitting on the bench without shoes on, implying an ankle injury. Seems this must have been the case, as Mills hopped on one foot through the line to shake hands at the end of the game. I can't imagine how awful it must be to wait for the season to arrive, and then injure yourself in the first game of the year. Here's hoping for a speedy recovery for Mr. Mills.

3) I'll admit that I knew nothing of Kettle Moraine coming into the night, nor did I expect to see more than 2 minutes of their game against King, given when I arrived. But since things were running behind and I did get to see most of the second half, I definitely came away impressed with their backcourt. Upon returning home I saw that they were picked by the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook to finish second behind Arrowhead in the Classic Eight Conference. King was the stronger team last night, but then again, there are few teams in the state that King isn't generally stronger than.

4) The word on Arrowhead is that they're supposed to be young (for some reason, it seems like Arrowhead is always young). Despite their youth, there is some talent there. In fact, the player that stood out the most to me, Charlie Fischer, is only a sophomore (according to the box score in this morning's paper, I somehow missed Arrowhead's Russ Finco dropping 35 points on the Custer, so my observation skills might have been off a bit last night). So look for some good times for the Warhawks in coming years. As it was, they notched a nice victory over Custer last night.

5) During the announcements before each game, the PA announcer read a statement that noted that one of the goals of the tournament was for everyone to conduct themselves in a manner that "doesn't offend anyone." Isn't that kind of a high bar to set? I mean, I was sitting quietly in the corner of the gym, but I even I can't be totally sure that I wasn't offending anyone by the way I was sitting, or with my shoddy-looking clothing for the evening, or even with the smell of the soap I'd used that day. The lawyer in me wants the tournament to change their goal to having everyone conduct themselves in a manner that could not reasonably be expected to offend others in their proximate vicinity. I'm not holding my breath for that change.

6) Forgotten by me until last night is that the three-point distance change in college basketball also affects the division three level, as Wisconsin Lutheran's court had the new line in place. I would guess that high school coaches aren't going to be real excited to play on college courts this season, as about 75% of the three pointers that I saw attempted last night came from behind the college arc, even though the other arc just inside is the standard for high school.

7) The real intrigue of last night was seeing if Wauwatosa East's Larry Bradley, a transfer from Milwaukee Vincent and the top sophomore in the state, would play for the Red Raiders. While I had seen nothing in the media beforehand about any potential issues with Bradley's eligibility to play for Tosa East, I've heard plenty of rumors flying around Tosa for the past few weeks. Bradley was with the Tosa East team last night, but was not in uniform, leaving plenty of questions to be answered about the situation. Fortunately, the Journal Sentinel finally picked up on this story this morning, giving some insight into the situation. We'll see how things work out, but based on my read of the story, it doesn't sound good for Mr. Bradley.

8) Other than the late end to the evening, the most annoying aspect of the night had to be when Milwaukee Tech held the ball for a final shot with two and a half minutes to go in the first half. I doubt that Tech was actually trying to hold the ball for a final shot. More likely, they were holding the ball to try and get Tosa East to come out of its zone, which made no sense at that juncture of the game. With Tosa East holding a 6 point lead and another half of basketball to be played, the Red Raiders didn't have much motivation to let Tech choose how they wanted to be defended. So the crowd was treated to nearly three minutes of 10 guys standing around. Then Tech failed to score. Not a fun way to end the half.

9) Lots of credit to Tech for a nice rebounding effort last evening. Second chances against the Trojans were tough to come by for Tosa East, even though they had a very capable player with a distinct height advantage over the Trojan big men.

10) Besides Bradley being out for Tosa East, returing starting point guard Michael Cupertino was suited up, but did not play last evening. While the Red Raiders looked good without Cupertino, once can only imagine that they'll look even better once their most consistent returning player returns to the floor from whatever issue was keeping him out.

11) In Cupertino's absence, Tosa East starting point guard Eric Neal was nothing short of spectacular, throwing a pair of jaw-dropping assists through traffic to big man Frazier Reiland, and stealing the ball from Tech's guards with impressive regularity. Neal has some of the quickest hands that I can remember seeing on a high school player.

With my first pair (and another half) of high school games in the books, it was time to call it a night. I was able to keep my eyes open long enough to check my DVR and see North Carolina show how ridiculously good it is this year by dismantling a tough Notre Dame team. Some people associate Thanksgiving with football, but those of us in the know realize that the weekend is really about basketball. Here's hoping your Thanksgiving is as happy as mine.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Holiday Delay

Yes, it's true--I've only seen the first half of the Connecticut-Wisconsin game. While Thanksgiving week brings with it an obscene amount of basketball (I'll be upset if I've not sat through at least 8 games on TV or in person by Saturday night), it also brings meetings with old friends. So last night I let my DVR do the work for me, and hung out with my friend Brooks, in town from New Mexico, and a few other longtime pals. I'll finish up the game tonight. Not sure if I'll register my thoughts tomorrow, but there should be some residual ramblings over the holiday weekend, as I hopefully get to sit through some of the oodles of games going on. And if I'm not back before then, have a happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Marquette-UWM: The Game I've Waited Years For

This past weekend was a rare gift–a few days of compelling basketball well before the middle of the season. Normally, the start of the season features teams from the big conferences beating up on hapless opponents to pad their win totals prior to the start of meaningful games. But this weekend, Wisconsin played a surprise overtime game against Iona in the Paradise Jam, and advanced to play San Diego, a team that would not have shocked me had they upset the Badgers. I’ll talk about the Badgers’ run at the Paradise Jam as a whole tomorrow, after I see tonight’s game against UConn in the finals. Today’s topic of choice, though, is the Marquette-UWM game.

The Marquette-UWM game this past weekend was another oasis of interesting basketball in the vast abyss of November hoops. After a few years of bad blood as a resurgent, Bruce Pearl-led UWM demanded a game against the Tom Crean-led Marquette squad, this game finally came to be last year. Though UWM was going through a decidedly down year last year, last year’s contest was a game that I was disproportionately excited to attend. Unfortunately, I never got to attend that game. The night beforehand, I was stricken with the worst bout of food poisoning that I’ve ever had. To top things off, my furnace went out on the same night, leaving me to wonder after I had collapsed for the night face down in my hallway whether I was shivering because of my illness, or because the temperature in my home was 57 degrees. Thus, instead of actually going to last year’s big game, I fell asleep while watching it on TV and sipping ginger ale.

So yes, you could say I was even more disproportionately excited to actually attend this year’s Marquette-UWM game. My friend Dez found some decent tickets on Craigslist, and we were on our way. My notes below:

1) The hate surrounding this game in past years seems to have officially worn off. Gone are the primary combatants creating the bad blood between the two teams, Bruce Pearl and Tom Crean. And UWM, while certainly a credible threat these days, isn’t the back-to-back tournament team that they were a few years back.

2) Two events of Saturday evening confirmed to me how much less tense things have gotten between Marquette and UWM. First, while meeting up with my friend Nate prior to the game, he indicated that he hoped the bad blood was over. While this may not seem like much coming from a normal fan, Nate is my insane UWM fan friend who once semi-seriously suggested that if he won the lottery, he’d like to buy the Bradley Center and tear it down so that Marquette wouldn’t have a place to play. So if Nate’s largely over the whole Marquette-UWM, every human being on the planet should be. The second event that made things seem more okay was the pre-game moment of silence to honor Rob Jeter’s recently deceased father. That’s a very big move to show that type of respect to an opposing coach. I don’t doubt that had Jeter’s father passed last fall there would have been a similar moment of silence, but I suspect that last year it would have felt a lot more like a manufactured public relations ploy than a genuine move to honor Jeter’s father.

3) The biggest surprise of the night for me was UWM’s Tone Boyle, who shot the ball well, and was able to get by any and all of Marquette’s perimeter defenders with ease (to be fair, it seemed on Saturday like anyone could have gotten penetration on Marquette, though). Boyle’s one weakness was an amazing inability to finish layups once he got to the hoop. He tallied 23 points, but I suspect he’d have easily had over 30 points if he’d have put in any reasonable number of the inside 4-foot shots that he took.

4) It’s weird how things seem to be working at Marquette with regard to its best players. For two years, Dominic James was the man. Then last year, Jerel McNeal took over as the player to talk about. This year, Wesley Matthews is doing his best Tony Smith impression, and Lazar Hayward continues to improve as rapidly as almost anyone that I’ve ever seen. So it’s genuinely in doubt as to who’s Marquette’s top guy is this year (put me down as believing it will by Hayward by the time all’s said and done). Hopefully opponents have as tough a time figuring this out as I do.

5) At one point early in the second half, I looked over at my buddy Dez and noted that Marquette’s aforementioned top four players, had all but one of the 55 (or near that) points on the board. I then considered lamenting to Dez about how Marquette would be in trouble if they only had four guys capable of scoring big points, before I realized how ridiculous it was to be upset about only having four legit scoring threats.

6) The halftime competition on Saturday was truly inspired. The standard Marquette musical chairs contest with a handful of MU students went on until the final four. At that point, the emcee announced a special promotion whereby the first of the final four contestants to agree to immediately receive a “Buzz Williams buzz cut” would receive a Nintendo Wii from Sportclips. That was a welcome curveball. The fastest contestant was then taken to a chair where he had his head shaved. It actually ended up being a pretty good look for the kid, and he’ll at least have an amusing tale later this week when he shows up at home for Thanksgiving and his mother is outraged that he’s shaved his head. Major kudos to the promotions team for thinking this one up, though. There are few things more amusing than getting a college kid to shave his head. Let’s just hope that next time they can speed things up enough that it allows for the finish of the musical chairs contest, which was basically abandoned because the cut took too long.

7) It’s pretty clear that James Eayrs is going to be a UWM fan favorite, because even the opposing fans at the Bradley Center seemed to enjoy him on Saturday. How do you not love a 300+ pound guy that shoots 3-pointers and has the feat of a dancer, despite the fact that he looks more like an offensive lineman than a basketball player?

8) While UWM really pushed Marquette in the first half and should have been able to maintain that level of play, things completely changed when Marquette went on an early run to start the second half. Marquette quickly adding an extra 8-or so points onto its five point halftime lead seemed to completely take UWM out of its game. The offense ran differently, and gone was the solid first-half team that gave Marquette fits. Instead, it looked like UWM had been replaced by a haphazard team just throwing up shots. If not for the first three minutes of the second half, I suspect this would have been a much different game.

So finally, I got to see a Marquette-UWM game in person. The results were encouraging. It’s pretty clear that we’re going to see Marquette break some scoring records this year, and if UWM plays as they showed they’re capable of in the first half, they’re going to make some waves in the Horizon League and give fits to whoever they play. It still sort of embarrasses me that it took me this long to see both local teams play in person, but both acquitted themselves nicely and gave me reason to be excited for the season. Here’s looking forward to my next trip downtown...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Abbreviated Thoughts On Wisconsin vs. SIU-Edwardsville

It was late by the time I got to watch the Wisconsin game last evening, so I’m only offering an abbreviated set of points today. With so much basketball on TV, there was only so much time for writing afterward (particularly with a late-night Arizona-UAB game calling me). So here are today’s bare-bones thoughts:

1) Sure, they eventually won their game after their opponent hoisted an awful shot during its final possession, but it was nice to see Indiana struggling with IUPUI as the lead-in to the Wisconsin game.

2) As I get more familiar with Rob Wilson’s game, it occurs to me that right now that his biggest issue is that he plays at about one speed faster than he should be. The talent’s there, so I’m just waiting to see what he can do by midseason, when hopefully he’s calmed down a bit.

3) At one point last night the announcers were talking about the Badgers upcoming trip to the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands, and noted that Marcus Landry had talked about enjoying some leisure time there after the team took care of business. They went on to note that Landry had indicated that he had taken eight years of swimming lessons and intended on putting those to use. Eight years? Who takes eight years of swimming lessons? Landry’s a fairly athletic guy, so I’d like to believe that something would have clicked for him during the first seven years, but maybe it took eight years for him to get a handle on that whole swimming thing. Either that, or Landry has a competitive swimming past that I don’t know about.

4) Perhaps it’s just because of Bo Ryan’s age, but I always find it awkwardly amusing when Ryan casually refers to Jason Bohannon by using his nickname “J-Bo,” as he did last night during his halftime interview.

5) I always thought he was a knucklehead when he was playing at Ohio State, but to my surprise, I found myself constantly impressed with the points that Jim Jackson made as color commentator last night. For the record, though, I do not include the painful “Jackson five” points to the game gimmick that was forced on viewers to be one of the things that I liked about Jackson. I’m willing to bet that he didn’t come up with that gimmick, though, so I’ll give him a pass on that.

6) It’s official–Ian Markolf got a minute and a half of action at the end of the game, so he’s not redshirting. Markolf’s time, combined with the lack of an appearance by Jared Berggren would seemingly imply that Berggren will redshirt this year. Factor in Ryan Evans’ announcement earlier in the week that he would be redshirting, and I’m officially 0-3 on predicting the status of these three for the year. You can’t win them all, I guess.

No better way to end the evening than with a blowout win by the Badgers, and getting to watch J.P. Gavinski run around for a good portion of the second half. I can’t make it down to the UWM game tonight, so I’m taking a break from things tonight. Hopefully I’ll be back on Friday with thoughts on whatever happens to be on TV on Thursday.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Marquette vs. Chicago State: The Perils of Satellite TV

Early season Marquette games are a bit more difficult for me to see this year, due to the fact that I’m no longer a season ticket holder. It’s tougher to talk someone into going to see the Golden Eagles play Chicago State when it’s just a random mid-week game, and not an obligation that you and your friends signed up for when you bought season tickets. And as I’ve documented almost an annoying amount, my DirecTV enabled home does not have access to Time Warner Sports, which shows Marquette’s early season games. So there’s no way for me to watch bad Marquette non-conference games from the comfort of my own home.

As luck would have it, though, my gym does have Time Warner, and has an abundance of TVs. So last night I reverted to a trick that I picked up last year–heading to the gym for the second half to watch the game. It’s not the whole game, but hey, I’d die if I ran for two hours, so the second half will do just fine. After all, it was my first real opportunity to get a look at Marquette this year, so even if the circumstances were unpleasant, I was going to check out the game. And people wonder why I’m thinking about heading back to Time Warner...

Last night’s second-half-only notes below:

1) Last night Milwaukee got maybe a quarter inch of snow, which promptly froze to the ground and caused havoc with traffic. For some reason, people who drive the entire winter in snow always seem to forget how icy roads work, and thus, the first day of even the most miniscule amount of snow is hell to drive through. This is one of the times when I don’t mind not having season tickets. If I had tickets, last night would have resulted in a slow, nerve-racking drive downtown as I struggled to get to my seats in time for tip-off. I know this, because radio host Steve "Homer" True started his drive downtown right around when I leave work, and last night started from a location only blocks away from my office. True struggled to get downtown in time for the game (he eventually made it, though he missed a good chunk of the pre-game show) and based on his phone call back to his show during the drive, he took the same route as I would have. I, on the other hand, listened to Homer’s ordeal as I made a stress-free trip home.

2) Apparently the roads didn't just keep the radio host away last night, as the stands looked shockingly sparsely populated last night, even for an early-season Marquette non-conference game.

3) I've never liked the look of those long tights that a handful NBA players started wearing a couple of years ago under their game shorts to keep their legs warm. That said, I didn't mind seeing them on Dominic James last night. Yes, basically everyone who wears tights while playing basketball looks like an idiot. But James cramps up more than any human being alive, and seeing as they've tried everything else by this point, I'm totally on board with the Marquette training staff having him wear long pants in an attempt to help out his leg muscles.

4) There are different types of teams that you'll see major conference teams play when they're just trying to rack up victories and build chemistry during the early non-conference schedule. There are teams that constantly toss up three-pointers and make the score look closer than it should logically be, given the talent gap between them and their host (much like the old haphazardly thrown together Marathon Oil and Athletes in Actions teams of the past). There are good mid-major teams that aren't known to the general public, but play well enough together to give the major conference team a bit of a challenge (Marquette lost to one in the Blue & Gold Classic a year or two ago, and received far too much grief for it). And then there is the ultra-fun, fast paced team that might not be great, but puts on a really exciting show. That's would be Chicago State. I'm not going to go so far as to say that the Cougars are good, but they are definitely entertaining to watch, and nearly completed some insane plays last night.

5) I didn't totally catch who the TV announcers were saying this about, but I think it was David Holston that they noted was high school buddies with another player (John Cantrell, I believe) and came to Chicago State as a walk-on largely just because he knew someone there. Four years later, he's about to become Chicago State's all-time leading scorer at the division one level. Pretty amazing story if it's true (whoever it was about).

6) I've heard in the past that Chicago State lacked the resources to field a decent basketball team, and that's why they were so bad in the earlier part to the decade (I want to say it was the 2001 Cougar squad that was the worst division one basketball team that I’ve ever seen, but I may have the year wrong). I can believe that excuse, since in looking for the Chicago State athletics website to check out a player profile or two, I found the main Chicago State site to look like one of those screens that you get when you type in a mis-spelled address and find someone trying to sell a domain name.

7) It might have just been because Chicago State wasn't particularly big, but Lazar Hayward did a nice job of filling the role of the big guy that Dominic James drops passes in the lane to after penetrating. On nights when he's not pretending to be Marquette's big man, Hayward's also got the skills to step outside. After seeing his improvement last year, and his success in the first few games this year, I have to think that there's a good chance Hayward's improved

8) I was sort of surprised when I got home and looked up Chicago State in the Blue Ribbon Yearbook and learned that Chicago State’s John Cantrell is only 6'2". He looked a lot bigger on TV. I’m attributing this to two things. First, you’re going to look bigger when the opposing team only has one player over 6'8". Second, Cantrell nearly completed the most insane reverse alley-oop dunk that I’ve ever seen, a move that you wouldn’t expect a 6'2" guy to even attempt.

9) It’s more comfortable in a lot of ways to watch a Marquette game than a Wisconsin game right now. I know who all the players are, the same guards that were starting four years ago are still there, and while the new coach throws a wrinkle into things, I generally know what these guys are capable of. With Wisconsin, I’m looking to see if the new starting center can replace the old guy’s big numbers. With Marquette, I’m just looking to see if the fifth guard on the depth chart has healthy shoulders yet.

10) I was a bit disappointed that Chicago State's Pawel Kielbasa didn't get more time, simply because any broadcast is made more fun when the announcers need to talk about a guy named "Kielbasa."

11) Opting to only watch the second half made me miss Wesley Matthews’ 17-point first half explosion. He was fine in the second half, but so far I’ve missed out on three halves of my favorite MU player apparently scoring at will.

12) While it’s nice that Marquette scored 106 points, the most that they’ve scored in quite awhile, it does have to be cause for concern that they gave up 87 points. Although if Buzz Williams is planning on going up-tempo this year, he could pick a worse group of talent to do it with.

All in all, I guess it was worth going to see the Golden Eagles on TV, even if I added to my ever-growing pile of laundry. Tonight should be a bit more pleasant, as I return to the comfort of my own living room to watch ESPN unofficially start the college basketball season with North Carolina vs. Kentucky, and enjoy Wisconsin vanquishing another hapless non-conference opponent. Thoughts to follow tomorrow...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Wisconsin vs. Long Beach State: Raking Leaves and Watching Hoops

Basketball really got going this weekend, with the state’s three teams playing their first regular season games, and UWM playing in actual meaningful games in a tournament (I’ve only read about their 24-point comeback in the semifinals, but it sounded marvelous). Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attack the weekend as I would have liked. I missed the first Marquette game of the year because shockingly, I was unable to talk anyone into going with me on Friday night to see the Golden Eagles take on Houston Baptist. I watched Wisconsin-Long Beach State on TV, as actually attending would have made for my fourth trip to Madison in nine days, and that seemed excessive, particularly when I had leaves to rake. And UWM’s appearance in the finals of Iowa State’s tournament wasn’t even televised, so I had to resort to listening to the game on the radio while I cleaned my refrigerator.

But like I said, I did have opportunity to watch one game and listen to another, which was a perfect way to unwind from winterizing my lawn. So thoughts below on the Wisconsin game, with a few quick UWM sidebars at the end:

1) I wasn't impressed with the on-screen introductions of the starters last night, where each player stated his name and hometown, and then caught a ball that someone tossed to him. It's not a bad concept, but if the Big Ten Network is going to use it, their cameras need to shoot the players from the waist up, rather than the chest up. Because with the tight shot on the head and shoulders, you could barely see the tossed ball coming into frame, and several of the players looked like they were just randomly staring at someone off camera, rather than looking a ball into their hands.

2) Color commentator Shon Morris actually tossed out a mildly amusing line about Long Beach State's point guard early on when he noted "If Casper Ware is 5'9", then I'm Brad Pitt." But then Morris ruined it by going on to explain "And as anyone who's seen me knows, that's not the case." Yeah, we could infer that last part, Shon, and it's a lot funnier when you don't try to explain the joke.

3) I think I officially fell in love with Jordan Taylor yesterday, as he seemed to have me screaming with joy in my living room more than anyone else on the floor. In the little that I'd seen of him so far, he'd been steady and all, but yesterday he banked in a nice runner in the lane for his first points, took two charges, and tossed a perfect alley-oop pass to Marcus Landry, who needed the pass to be perfect to complete the play. If Taylor keeps this up, he may be the guy that replaces Joe Krabbenhoft next year as the guy I get most excited to watch play.

4) Obviously no line-up is completely set after one game, but Wisconsin's rotation yesterday is about what I expected. The only mild surprises to me is that Rob Wilson played slightly more than I expected, and Kevin Gullikson didn't see the floor. But like I said, those were minor surprises. And with Wilson's aggressiveness yesterday, his playing time was a welcome surprise (even if he banked in a 3-pointer for his first collegiate points).

5) Did anyone else think to themselves during the commercial featuring Big Ten football coaches giving recruiting pitches to viewers "Ten years from now this thing's going to be on Youtube and people are going to be asking why Penn State had a crazy old man coaching the team."

6) Long Beach State put up a much better fight against Wisconsin than expected with their physical, aggressive defense and solid three-point shooting. I think Long Beach State played well, and I know that Wisconsin tends to schedule better-than-average no-name opponents during the early season, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit worried to see the Badgers working so hard to beat Whitewater and Long Beach State back-to-back.

7) Last year, despite him having a good season, I had sort of given up on the idea of Marcus Landry ever being the go-to player for Wisconsin, but it’s looking exactly like that’s what he’s developed into. For the first time last night, there were times in the post where he looked just like his older brother Carl, who was dominant on the blocks for Purdue a few years ago. Carl couldn’t step out an shoot the three like Marcus, though. It looks like Marcus Landry is finally reaching his potential, and even though I suspected that would never happen, this is one time that I’m happy to be wrong.

8) Because of Landry’s status as the team’s top player, get ready to hear lots of talk on broadcasts this year about how he’s married with three kids, and how he’s grown up a lot during the last four years. I actually don’t think I’ll get annoyed by the fact that I’m going to hear this story 20 or so times this year, as it’s an impressive enough situation that it may actually warrant all the attention that it will get. I’m always happy to hear about a guy who went from being declared academically ineligible to becoming an upstanding family man and the leader of one of the top basketball teams in the Big Ten.

9) Because I’m obligated by law not to go longer than 3 days without mentioning something that I like about Joe Krabbenhoft, I’ll note that I loved when he very clearly expressed his anger to teammates when he and two other Badgers got beaten badly on a fastbreak early in the game. I also thought that Krabbenhoft looked more confident shooting the ball last night, though I’m not ready to get excited about that just yet, as he still looked tentative during the Whitewater exhibition.

10) If the Wisconsin-Long Beach State and UWM-Iowa State games are any indication, the new three-point line isn’t doing anything to discourage people from bombing away from the outside.

11) Am I the only one who’s bitter that UWM played a game against a Big 12 team and no one found a place to televise it?

12) Listening to the UWM game last night was sort of weird, since the Panthers have had so much turnover on their roster. Fifty percent of the roster is made up of new faces this year, and frankly, UWM’s rotation was in flux for so much of last year (and I saw so little of them then) that I can’t say I have a great handle on who all of the returning guys were, either. Thus, I spent a good portion of the game hearing the name of a player who had scored, and wondering which team had just registered a few more points. I’m a visual learner, so this should get a bit easier after a few trips to the MECCA (and next weekend’s trip to the Bradley Center to play Marquette).

I’ve got a few more things on the DVR, as there were lots of big-name teams in action last night, but we’ll see when I get to them. I’ve got a few chores tonight that will keep me from getting to the Marquette game going on downtown, but should catch a good portion of the game on TV if I time things right. Here’s looking forward to my first look at the Buzz Williams era...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wisconsin vs. UW-Whitewater: An Actual Challenge

I’ve vowed to get to more Wisconsin games this year, and last night I got off to a good start on that, taking in the Wisconsin vs. UW-Whitewater game at the Kohl Center (thanks, as always, to my good friend who I shall refer to only as Boo Yah for the ticket hook-up). It was a bit of a struggle getting there, as a car fire on I-94 closed down both lanes for a bit and delayed my arrival at the Kohl Center by about 30 minutes, but eventually I made it to the game. I missed the pageantry of introductions, which is typically one of my favorite things to see at the first game of the year, but after a quick jog from my parking ramp, I made it in with about 14 minutes to go in the first half. I’ll just have to look forward to seeing intros at the next game I make it to. Thoughts on the night below:

1) Credit has to be given to UW-Whitewater for giving Wisconsin all that they could handle in this game. There are likely plenty of Badger fans who walked away from the game last night wringing their hands over how some division three team posed a challenge to Bo Ryan and his boys. And while I understand that sentiment, and also expected a bigger win from the Badgers, the fact is that Whitewater played one hell of a game, defending well, and refusing to back down against the bigger Badgers. Whitewater's #4 national ranking in division three makes this not totally unexpected, however the past few years have seen some highly ranked division three teams play in exhibition games against the state's division one teams, and none has fared as well as the Warhawks did last night. A few years back, UW-Stevens Point (ranked #1 in division three at the time) lost by 13 to Marquette, which was a reasonable margin, but Marquette essentially controlled that game from the start. And when Lawrence was near its peak, they played UWM and got utterly destroyed, looking remarkably physically overmatched in the process. Whitewater, while smaller than UW, didn’t look physically overmatched and definitely didn’t let Wisconsin control the game last night. The Warhawks performed on a level that I’ve never seen by a division three team in an exhibition before. Looks like I’m going to have to make that scary and annoying drive to the Whitewater gym once or twice this year...

2) I think assistant coach Greg Gard put it best in his post-game show interview when he said that Joe Krabbenhoft’s head is “like a magnet for elbows.” It wasn’t an elbow last night, but it appeared that he got poked in the eye at one moment in the first half, when he fell to the floor in pain, and retreated to the locker room for a good portion of the rest of the half. At least that explained why he had his head down when he shot the ball just before he fell to the floor.

3) Whitewater’s Matt Goodwin might be the Warhawks’ all-American, but I think Whitewater’s big guys were the most notable players on the floor for the Warhawks last night. They didn’t quite have the size of Wisconsin’s bigger players, but they weren’t intimidated in the least, and their fearless play paid off, keeping Whitewater in the game all night.

4) I think I’ve made this point before, as it’s been a few years since I noticed the original problem, but kudos to Whitewater for finally springing for a mascot costume that doesn’t involve sweatpants.

5) If I had to blame Wisconsin’s difficulty in securing a victory last night on something other than Whitewater being a formidable roadblock, I’d blame a lack of intensity in the first half, and a number of confusing passes. It’s rare that I’ve seen a good team try to weave as many passes across two defenders in the lane as the Badgers did last night. The intensity definitely returned in the second half. Let’s hope that the smart passing returns by the next game.

6) Whitewater’s Kori Vernon is a guy that I’ve always noticed since his days at Madison Memorial, partly for his steady, solid play, and partly because of his trademark headband which always sunk below the hairline on his shaved head, resulting in an odd look. Vernon’s headband was nowhere to be seen last night, leaving him to be noticed only for his steady play. Luckily, his play made him stand out last night, as without the headband, he just sort of looks like another guy on the floor.

7) One of the things that’s frustrating about a close exhibition game is that you don’t get to see the players that are buried deep on the bench of the host team. I was looking for a few awkward, goofy plays last night, but it was not to be. So, so long J.P. Gavinski. I look forward to seeing you again next November.

8) I had never noticed it until it was pointed out to me last night by my friend that joined me at the game, but the picture of players’ eyes that is shown on the lighted ring around the Kohl Center just below the second deck during foul shots is maybe one of the 10 creepiest things that I’ve ever seen.

9) I don’t know what’s going on with the mouthpiece of Whitewater’s Dustin Mitchell, but it looked like he was letting it hang out of his mouth all night. Either that, or it was the biggest mouthpiece of all time. I’m theorizing that it’s the latter, and it’s due to some gruesome dental injury that I don’t even want to know about, since that’s more interesting than Mitchell simply lacking the self-discipline to keep his mouthpiece in.

10) The big question that people will be talking about today is which, if any, of the freshmen will be redshirting for the Badgers. Neither Jared Berggren nor Ian Markolf got into the game last night, which should fuel speculation about each of them redshirting. I would assume that only one will, with the other getting very occasional minutes, and generally hanging around to make sure that the Badgers never have to put J.P. Gavinski on the floor. And from the little that I saw at the scrimmage a few weeks back, Berggren looks most ready to play right now, so I’d expect to see Markolf wearing a red golf shirt for the rest of this year. Ryan Evans would be the other possibility to redshirt, since he’s buried behind lots of other guys, and looks like a guy that could really turn into a player with an extra year of seasoning. But ultimately, I think he’ll go the way of Ray Nixon and have a nice career where we end up wishing he had another year left at the end. So that’s my official prediction–Markolf’s the only redshirt this year.

11) The drive home last night was excellent, as Wisconsin has an elongated post-game radio show with interviews and callers. This is one of the things that I love about the culture in Madison surrounding the University of Wisconsin. In Madison, you are a Badger fan–there’s no other game in town. Thus, the coverage of everything UW is as abundant as can be. Last night’s post game coverage of a meaningless exhibition game spanned nearly an hour, and I’m guessing that plenty of people were listening. In Milwaukee, Marquette usually wraps things up in half that time, if not less, and UWM gets off the air at lightning speed. It’s great that there are more sports distractions in Milwaukee, but sometimes the hegemonic sports world of Madison is comforting to be around.

So it was a good night. The 64-47 final score doesn’t paint an accurate picture of a game that was close throughout. With my first live game (well, most of it anyway–stupid cars on fire backing of traffic!) in the books, I made the rainy drive home and called it a night. Only another couple of weeks until I can be watching something this fun every night.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Game #1: Duke vs. Presbyterian

Wow, that snuck up on me. I found out early yesterday that last night was the first televised basketball game of the year–Duke vs. Presbyterian, on ESPNU. No better way to kick things off than with the team I’m most embarrassed to admit that I like–Duke. Upon finding out that this game was on ESPNU, I immediately re-ordered the Directv sports package, which I typically cancel during the offseason. Yep, I’m back on the hook for $12 per month to watch whatever is on ESPNU, an assortment of west coast games, and when I have absolutely nothing to do, Friday night Patriot League games. Hopefully that ridiculous low-level, Cleveland-based pro wrestling organization is still on the air, too.

And so another season begins for me without grandeur. I’m back again. I’ll probably be good for another 2-3 updates per week from here on out, some of them undoubtedly half-assed as I try to better balance basketball and sleep than I have in the past (last night being a good example, as I didn’t quite make it to the end of the game on my DVR). It’s good to be back. But enough of the self-reflexive nonsense, and on to some game points:

1) Among the first things told to us by the on-screen graphics and the announcers is that Presbyterian's mascot is the Blue Hose, which is apparently some sort of Scottish warrior. Still not a great mascot choice, though, since as awkward as it looks in written form, it's even more ridiculous when one hears it spoken. Hearing the words "Blue Hose" out loud didn't make me think about fierce Scotsmen. Rather, it made me conjure up images of inbred Kentucky mountain-people prostitutes. Certainly that's not what university leadership was going for.

2) Kind of shocking to hear that Greg Paulus is not starting for Duke this year. Obviously Paulus will still play big minutes for the Blue Devils, but that had to be a hit to his ego anyway, after spending his first three years as starting point guard and leading the team in assists. (This is where I’d make a Friday Night Lights reference, if this season of that stellar show was being seen by more than 15-20 people watching it on a hard-to-find, Directv-only channel.) Paulus may have his flaws, and Nolan Smith might be plenty good, but it's not every day that you see a three-year starter for one of the top programs in the nation displaced without him getting arrested for something. And to my knowledge, Paulus’s record is squeaky clean.

3) The three-point line has been moved back to 20'9" this year, and that fact was made abundantly clear during the broadcast, as it was seemingly noted as often as possible to the TV audience. Normally I'd be annoyed by the constant reiterating of this point every couple of minutes, but it was actually kind of nice to have the new rules beaten into me last night. This way I'll be readily aware of the change for the rest of the season, and will for once in my life actually know the correct distance of the three-point arc.

4) One point that had been confusing to me and which was nice to clear up last night was why, with the new three-point distance in effect, the old three-point line was still out there cluttering things up. Turns out it's not just to serve as a constant reminder that shooters are better than they were 20 years ago. The line is still there because there has been no distance change to the women's three-point line. While this is somewhat understandable, it is sort of upsetting from an aesthetic perspective that almost every college basketball court will be cluttered by two lines this year. I don't like that the every college court is one step closer to looking like a high school gym floor with lines for every sport imaginable. I know virtually nothing about the women's game, but I would implore them to move their line back a few inches to be congruent with the men's rules. I doubt the shooting percentages would fall of much (women marksmen always amaze me in the end-of-season college three-point competition), and it would really make things look more attractive.

5) Jon Scheyer seemed automatic with his mid-range jumper last night. While he's always been one of the more capable scorers that Duke has, last night he showed the type of consistency from 15 feet that makes it boring to watch an NBA game.

6) This game was touted as being the first game ever broadcast in HD on ESPNU. While I like that fact, I have to wonder who carries ESPNU in HD. I'm a Directv subscriber, and the main benefit to Directv is that they tout something like 9 billion HD channels. Well as far as I could find (and please, someone correct me if I’ve missed something), ESPNU isn't one of them. I can't imagine that ESPNU HD is in a lot of places if I'm not seeing it in my home.

7) I like Kyle Singler more every time that I see him. He’s seemingly everywhere on the court. I can’t think of too many forwards that you see constantly tipping opponents perimeter passes like Singler does. He was excellent last year, serving as Duke’s main interior player as a freshman, but look to hear his name a lot more this year, now that most of the nation’s bizarre crop of super-talented freshmen have gone to the NBA. Few things are more scary than a classic inside-outside Duke forward.

8) Last night the broadcast featured the "Cameron Crazie Cam," a camera located in the Duke student section, designed to give a student section view of the game. At various points in the game, they would show this camera feed next to the live game footage. Not a bad idea, in theory, but I think it only works if you have the game in HD. Because on my standard definition feed, whenever they went to the Crazie Cam, the only thing that going split-screen accomplished is making my already mediocre view of the game look even smaller and more hard to decipher. Oh, and I got to see a shaky, even more mediocre view of the game on the left side of my screen.

9) You know things aren’t going well for Duke 7-footer Greg Zoubek when he goes to the bench against Presbyterian and the first thing that the announcers can say about him is that he’ll be useful for Duke during the ACC season because “he’ll give them some fouls.” The assessment got more positive from there, but it was hard to buy after going straight to the “this guy has 5 fouls to give” analysis.

10) In the surprise of the night, I was not wowed by, or even particularly aware of any of Duke’s freshmen. Usually after the first Duke game of the year, I find myself saying to one of my friends “You won’t believe this new guy that Duke has!” I remember it with J.J. Redick, Luol Deng and even going way back to Elton Brand. But last night none of the new guys distinguished themselves. I can only assume that will change over time, though, as freshman Miles Plumlee started the game, and classmate Olek Czyz has a ridiculously cool name.

Struggling to keep my eyes open during the second half (again–I DVR’d it), and having already seen the final score of the game during an inadvertent glance at the crawl during the Monday night football game, I called it a night. We’ve got one in the books, and the season is on. Now it’s time to start going to games. Tonight I’ll be heading to watch Wisconsin vs. UW-Whitewater (I’ll talk more in the near future about how I managed to miss Marquette and UWM’s exhibition games last week). Since Whitewater’s the #4 division three team in the country, I won’t just be getting a chance to see my favorite team compete for the first time this year, I’ll also get a look at one of the state’s premier division three teams. Should be fun, and I’ll share my thoughts from the Kohl Center tomorrow.

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