Friday, December 26, 2008

Backing Up A Week: A Snowy Night In Germantown

Last Saturday my friend T.J., one of my favorite basketball watching pals, flew into Milwaukee from his North Carolina home and we set forth on one of the longest days of basketball watching that I've done in some time. He arrived at my place just before 2pm, and the basketball didn't stop until around 11pm. Most of it involved watching an array of surprisingly good non-conference college games on TV. Another friend had sold me tickets to the Wisconsin-Coppin State game that evening, which was to be the centerpiece of the day. However, with over a foot of snow on the ground from the prior day and 5-7 more predicted for the evening, a trip to Madison was out of the question. I'm happy to burn two-and-a-half hours of travel time to get to and from a random Wisconsin non-conference game, but risking my life on snowy roads to see Coppin State head to town is where I draw the line.

So our live event of the evening boiled down to two options: UWM vs. Bradley at the MECCA, or a high school game pitting Menomonee Falls against Germantown. High school action won out because a) the Milwaukee Bucks game going on across the street from the UWM game would have made parking more annoying and expensive than it should be, b) T.J.'s fondness for Wisconsin high school hoops has intensified after his experiences with North Carolina high school hoops, and c) there were some great players and subplots involved in the Falls-Germantown game.

So we set off on a snowy drive from a sports bar in downtown Milwaukee to Germantown High School. The roads and roadside accidents along the way made me happy that we'd nixed the trip to Madison, and a bit confused at why we thought driving all the way to Germantown would be a better idea. But we lived, and to my knowledge, my car didn't hit anything. Notes from the game below (and notes from our earlier experiences will contribute to a gigantic hodgepodge of thoughts that I'll toss out this weekend):

1) To my surprise, apparently Germantown and Menomonee Falls are rivals. This obviously makes sense geographically, as the municipalities are located right next to one another, but the two schools aren’t in the same conference, and to my knowledge, have not been in the same conference as long as I’ve been alive. So it simply never occurred to me that this could be a rivalry game. Nonetheless, the rivalry factor made for a packed gym on a night that I suspect otherwise would have had folks staying home and drinking hot apple cider. And instead of a JV game preceding the varsity game, we were treated a varsity girls game. This didn't exactly make T.J. happy, as he has a bizarre hatred of high school girls basketball. As we sat down, we immediately began taking count of the number of traveling calls.

2) While the excellent attendance at the game helped the atmosphere, it did little to help me find some elbow room. My original seats for the evening were in the Germantown adult section near mid-court. This seemed an excellent place to sit until about the fourth quarter of the girls’ game, when things began to fill up. One particular mother began saving every seat that she could around us. Not wanting to be in the midst of the Germantown booster section, we changed sides during the break between games and sat anonymously on the Falls side. Unfortunately, things had begun to fill up quickly on that side as well, and the most reasonable seats that we could find were right on the edge of the Falls student section. T.J. and I found ourselves wedged between three old guy basketball junkies on our right, and three teenage girls on our left. It’s a mighty weird night when you have the option of turning to one side and striking up a conversation about Menomonee Falls legend Bob Wolf, or turning to the other side and talking about the Jonas Brothers.

3) In a down economy, I can’t think of any better deal than the 50 cent small bag of popcorn that I purchased at the Germantown concession stand. Presuming of course, that after all of the salt involved you can lay off of buying a $1.50 can of soda (which I was able to).

4) I’m not sure if the refs thought that they were getting paid by the hour, but Saturday night was the closest that I’ve ever seen to a team making it to the double bonus prior to the end of the first quarter.

5) For all the fouls that were called early on, Falls took the biggest hit, as three players from their deep stable of big men found themselves saddled with two fouls apiece. Meanwhile, stellar Germantown big man Ben Averkamp came through the first half nearly unscathed. While Falls was clearly frustrated as the refs continually gave Averkamp the benefit of the doubt, it was at least nice to see Luke Russell, the normally docile Falls big man, show some fire on the court as he was called for a quick two fouls during his early battles with Averkamp.

6) Maybe the best thing about seeing a game at Germantown is the use the chime sound effect, like at Milwaukee Bucks’ games, following a made foul shot. I still can’t decide whether it’s so cheesy that it’s cool, or if it’s just cheesy (like most things taken from the NBA). Either way, it led to the most entertaining pair of foul shots that I’ve ever seen, when Germantown forward Bryan Keys banked in his first foul shot, garnering the chimes, and then had his second shot get trapped between the backboard and the rim. I’m almost wondering if the second shot may have been a piece of well-played strategy by Keys, though, as Germantown got the ball back via the possession arrow and scored in the subsequent possession.

7) I give credit to the staff at Germantown, as they put forth a great deal of effort with their sound system, playing sound cues like the chimes, and piping in popular music during time-outs to keep the crowd excited. I rarely see things like that at the high school level, and find myself much more likely to see such displays at division three games. All that said, the sound work still can't fix the fact that Germantown's gym seems to be one of the most bland spaces to watch a high school basketball game. Perhaps I'm biased due to my unfortunate incident there as a high school freshman, but Germantown is one of the few gyms that I've been to that just feels like there's nothing special about it, no matter how good the team is, or how much effort the staff puts into making the game itself entertaining (which it certainly was).

8) Obviously people know that Ben Averkamp is one of the top post players in the state, but I was surprised at how capable Germantown’s other 6'8" player, Michael Laubenheimer was. Averkamp and Laubenheimer were able to find each other several times using a nice high-low game. Menomonee Falls isn’t exactly a small team, with four talented players 6'5" or taller in its rotation, so I can only imagine how Germantown’s twin towers must do against normally-sized squads.

9_ I’ve only seen J.P. Tokoto play twice, but I’m officially sold on him after this game. T.J. and I spent part of the game trying to figure out if he which was his dominant hand (I hadn’t come to a definitive conclusion after the first time that I’d seen him), which is sort of a nice thing to be confused about with a high school freshmen. Right now, my highly untrained eye is as excited about Tokoto as any freshman that I can recall seeing. In another year or so, I assume we'll start to hear some interesting recruiting talk.

And with Germantown eeking out a hard fought win in a game that was in doubt nearly to the end, T.J. and I headed back to the car to brush off the snow and head home to watch more hoops. After all, isn't that the best way to end a great evening? (We may or may not have also enjoyed an episode of Hurl!, a TV show that's guaranteed to drop one's IQ by 40 points after only one viewing.)

More to share in the next day or two as I gather my general thoughts on the various things that I've seen and not commented on this year (lots of random college thoughts), and as I hopefully attend my first set of high school basketball games in the state of New York.

On The Road...

Prepping for the holidays has made life pretty crazy for me over the past few weeks, hence no recent updates. Floating around my computer somewhere are some thoughts on last Saturday, one of the most basketball-centric days that I've ever had. So I hope to post some belated thoughts soon. I swear I've been watching and writing--I just haven't been posting.

Currently, though, I'm lamenting the fact that visiting the New York branch of my family for Christmas means that I'm not at this year's Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook Shootout. In its brief history, the Shootout has rapidly become one of my favorite events. So I'm deeply saddened that I won't be meeting up with my group of friends that gathers annually to watch basketball until we're nearly blind. The boys will have a good time at the McGuire Center tomorrow, and a couple of friends have promised to send me key scores via text message.

There is some good news in all of this, however. As luck would have it, the city that I'm in happens to have a pretty big holiday tournament of its own. So while I'll be missing the WBY Shootout, I'd say there's a pretty good chance that I'll find my way over to the Stop DWI Holiday Classic here in lovely Binghamton, NY. I won't know the team histories, and I'll be watching lots of players that I'll never see again, but assuming that I can talk my sports-nut grandfather into heading over to the tourney with me, I'm sure I'll find something there that amuses me. After all, sometimes you need to step out of your usual routine in order to learn something new. And here's hoping that I learn something new at the Broome County Memorial Arena...

Friday, December 12, 2008


Not sure where I was getting my info from, as I'd thought the UWM game was starting one hour later than it did. Thus, planning my night around heading out to watch the second half on TV turned out to be a poor move. On the bright side, I instead got to watch the final 10 minutes of the Villanova-St. Joseph's game. It had a thrilling finish and was actually the first glimpse that I've ever gotten of a game that's part of the Philadelpha Big 5, an idea that I totally love. So I guess not all was lost...

Back Monday with thoughts on whatever I happen to watch. Hopefully I can find someone to scalp Marquette-IPFW tickets with me, as things are always more fun when Dane Fife comes to town.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tosa East vs. Menomonee Falls: Battling Through the Snow

It was a busy night for me tonight–first I shoveled snow. Then I changed clothes. Then I headed to the Tosa East-Menomonee Falls game at Tosa East. Then I went home and shoveled some more snow. Then I watched the Wisconsin-Idaho State game. Then I went to bed. Below are my thoughts about the high school game, mostly written during the brief time between those final two parts of my night:

1) Part of my attendance last evening was due to my desire to learn more about what’s going on with the Larry Bradley eligibility situation, and I did just that just moments after walking in the door and talking to my friend Gus. The news with regard to basketball was good, and is reported more fully in a Journal Sentinel piece this morning. The long and the short of it is that Bradley will be eligible for varsity play once his uncle is appointed as his guardian. I suspect that it will still be at least a few weeks until Bradley suits up for competition, though, as the process of appointing a guardian isn’t something that takes place overnight. It’s sort of a bittersweet victory, because while it’s nice that Bradley will get to play basketball this year, you sort of wish he wasn’t in a life situation that even makes this an issue. But I suppose you take the victories that you can get. (Update--thanks to Gus for passing along a link to the WIAA Ruling on this matter.)

2) Big off the court news last night, as Tosa East unveiled a new pirate-themed mascot costume at last night’s game. I’ve got mixed feelings on this one. On one hand, I’m glad to see another live mascot at a high school game, as we have too few of them right now. I also like that there’s another step towards the pirate theme at Tosa East. And in general, I thought the student wearing the costume put forth a nice effort for his first time in the suit. On the other hand, I’m not crazy about the design of the costume itself, and perhaps more importantly, I now have to stop referring to my older brother as the last man to ever don the Tosa East mascot attire for his stint as the Raider back in 1988.

3) I came away from the evening impressed with not only the hard-nosed play of Menomonee Falls guard John Cording, but the fact that he played the game in a sportsman-like manner. I actually question whether he and Tosa East’s Barrett Powell have some sort of prior friendship, because at multiple times I saw those two players pat each other on the back after or help one another up after a whistle.

4) Aside from the Bradley eligibility question, one of the other key reasons that I wanted to check out this particular game was to get a look at Falls freshman J.P. Tokoto. I can’t say that I got a great read on his game, as his minutes were slightly limited due to foul trouble, but I can say that I’ve only seen one or two freshmen throw down a dunk as impressively as he did in the final seconds of the game.

5) Typically when I go to games at Tosa East, I try to sit in the section for the visiting team’s fans. Aside from it being the first section there when you walk into the gym, it’s usually less crowded, and allows me and people that I’m with to feel a bit more anonymous. Last night was sort of an exception to the crowd issue, as for the first time in my memory, the visiting adult section appeared more full than the home adult section. I found this particularly impressive, given that the day’s snowstorm would have made a drive from Menomonee Falls less attractive last night.

6) Just a thought for the folks at Tosa East–you’ve retired the jerseys of Tony Smith and Devin Harris and hung them over one of the entry ways. That’s a great gesture. It would be an even better thing, though, if you put their names somewhere near their jerseys to identify who’s being honored. Because sitting amongst visiting fans last night, it became apparent to me that not everyone was sure of whose jerseys were hanging in the gym. Actually, it can be confusing to the home crowd, too, as not everyone remembers that Devin Harris wore the number 20 in high school, rather than his college and pro number of 34, and anyone who can remember back to the Tony Smith era knows that the style of jersey that’s currently hung in the gym is one that Tosa East didn’t start wearing until roughly five years after Smith’s graduation. All I’m asking for is a little clarity here.

7) I’m sure a point of some sort was being made, but I wish that Menomonee Falls hadn’t called time out while down 15 points with a minute and a half to go. I didn’t mind seeing Falls press Tosa East’s deep reserves at the end of the game, as it provided as least something interesting to watch during garbage time, but given that I had to get home and shovel to close out the night, tacking one more minute onto the game felt like punishment.

8) I actually came away intrigued by Menomonee Falls last night. Even though Tosa East blasted past them in the third quarter, the Indians defend well, and are the rare high school team that has four decent players listed at 6'5" or above. If they develop a bit more toughness inside, their re-match with Tosa East could be a classic.

9) Special thanks to the two young men who helped me push my car out of the snow after the game last night. Though I go to lots of high school basketball games around the area, I seldom actually interact with high school students. So when a young man in a Tosa East letter jacket saw me struggling to pull my car away from the curb last night offered to help me out, it sort of made me feel good about today’s youth. We might constantly read about drugs and violence in schools, but it’s nice to know that there’s still a couple of guys out there happy to push a random stranger’s car out of a snow bank.

With my car back on the road, I used it to get home and finish up shoveling. I also took in the Wisconsin-Idaho State game, but those are thoughts for another time, assuming I don’t try to forget about the Badgers having to squeak out a tough win against the third most recognizable institution of higher learning in Idaho.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Marquette-Wisconsin: My Belated Rivalry Thoughts

The Marquette-Wisconsin game is always one of my favorites, as there’s nothing more fun than an in-state rivalry. This year was a bit more intriguing to me, due to the dynamics of the season so far. Back two weeks ago when Marquette was regularly dropping 100 points on opponents, most people I knew were of the belief that Wisconsin didn’t stand much of a chance. Then after Marquette lost to Dayton and Wisconsin pulled out a tough win at Virginia Tech, I had a tough time finding anyone who believed Marquette could win this one. Of course, it ended up being a reasonably close game, with both teams going on a big runs at different points. And as always, it was lots of fun, even if my Badgers ended up on the losing end. My severely belated thoughts below:

1) If I’d had the opportunity to share some pre-game thoughts about the Marquette-Wisconsin game, the first thing that I would have said is that Jon Leuer is going to be the one guy that Marquette has no answer for and will have a huge game. It didn’t happen (Leuer had a merely solid game), but it was a logical thought, considering that Leuer has been on an outstanding run to start the season, he’s 6'10" and athletic, Marquette currently has only two healthy players over 6'7", and Marquette needed to use someone big to account for Marcus Landry before even thinking about Leuer. On the bright side for Leuer, while he didn’t break the game open, he did notch eight points and four rebounds in limited minutes.

2) Another thing that I’d have said prior to the game if I’d had the chance is that concerns about Marquette’s defense heading into this game were a bit overblown. From what I’ve seen of Marquette, their biggest issue is an inability to stop dribble penetration. And Wisconsin’s offense simply isn’t one that’s built on dribble penetration. Thus, Marquette’s biggest weakness wasn’t as likely to be exploited against Bo Ryan’s vaunted swing offense. In fact, Marquette’s athletic guards were able to extend the defense and contest passes on the perimeter, a move that over the years has tended to be the one thing that causes some difficulty for the Badgers.

3) Piggybacking on that point about dribble penetration, I don’t think that it’s any coincidence that Rob Wilson logged his most minutes in a game for the Badgers this season against Marquette. Wilson is one of the few Badgers that can get into the lane, and seemed to do so nearly every time he touched the ball on Saturday night. Nice to know that if things break down, Trevon Hughes isn’t the only guy who can create something out of nothing for Wisconsin.

4) Marquette introduces its student section by billing it as “the best student section in the country.” I don’t know if that’s necessarily true, but it has got a distinct edge over the Wisconsin student section, which has been sort of disjointed over the past few years.

5) I heard a radio interview on Friday night with Dominic James where he discussed many aspects of the Wisconsin game. One of the points that I found most interesting was his mentioning that Buzz Williams had come to the team and asked the players how they would feel most comfortable guarding the swing. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I thought much of that collaborative approach, but after seeing the game, I can’t help but think that they players must have had some idea what they were talking about. And Williams must have known what he was doing, too, as some coaches wouldn’t have recognized the incredible resource that a bunch of players who’d played against Wisconsin three prior times could be.

6) I’ve heard lots of talk about how little red there was in the Bradley Center on Saturday night. I actually thought that there was a pretty impressive number of Wisconsin fans in attendance, though I suppose it’s all relative. Seeing a smattering of Wisconsin fans sprinkled liberally throughout the arena is a far cry from when I was a kid, and the crowd was much closer to 50/50. Though I’m one of those bastard Wisconsin fans that made it into the game, I still have plenty of respect for Marquette’s recent efforts to secure their home court advantage. That’s what a school should seek to do.

7) While I was clearly in the minority as a Wisconsin fan during the game, and beforehand downtown, I’m happy to report that I found it to be a remarkably cordial crowd. Some of this was probably helped by me watching the game with a Marquette fan. Sure, I was randomly sworn at by a couple of people while on my way to the bathroom, but those folks were the exception, and not the rule. Besides, that’s just something that you have to expect in another team’s arena. On the whole, I felt safe the entire time, and saw virtually no post-game gloating. That’s all you can ask for.

8) The Jumbotron messages from players pumping up the crowd just keep getting better and better as the years go on. What seemed like a non-sensical, cheesy interlude a few years ago has truly become an entertaining aside. My compliments to the video team.

9) Three years ago, Marquette inexplicably had Chris Grimm guard Alando Tucker, and even more inexplicably, Grimm (and his teammates) virtually shut Tucker down. Last year, Dwight Burke somehow turned into a clutch foul shooter for the Wisconsin game and the Wisconsin game only. This year Burke put forth a tremendous effort and effectively slowed down Marcus Landry, Wisconsin’s biggest offensive threat. So I’m calling it right now–next year’s key to the Wisconsin game for Marquette is having a mediocre big man put forth an excellent effort.

10) I’ll be honest–I didn’t expect Jerel McNeal to take over scoring like he did for Marquette on Saturday night (defensive kudos to him as well, as he drew some awkward assignments at times). And that’s what’s so dangerous about Marquette–they’ve literally got four different guys capable of scoring 25 points on any given night, and no one knows which one (or more) is going to go off.

And with another installment of my favorite rivalry game in the books, I made the cold walk back to my car and headed to catch the tail end of one of the three holiday parties that I had to miss in order to make the game. It was a solid end to what usually ends up being one of my favorite nights of the year.

I should make it to a high school game tonight, weather permitting, so thoughts tomorrow on that, or in alternate, the Wisconsin-Idaho State game on TV.

Monday, December 08, 2008

...And I Give Another Excuse For My Incompetence

No Marquette-Wisconsin thoughts today. No, it’s not because I’m bitter that Wisconsin lost. Of course, I’d have rather seen Wisconsin steal a road win from Marquette, but even I have to concede that it’s entertaining to watch a team with only two semi-competent healthy players over 6'7" (yes, I recognize that Dwight Burke inexplicably goes from “semi-competent” to “stellar” anytime he faces Wisconsin) grab offensive rebounds like Marquette did.

The real reason that I have no update today is that I fell asleep on my couch around 9pm last night. Typically I finish off my weekend by jotting down my basketball thoughts, and when I pass out while watching TV, nothing gets written. While this end to my weekend does leave me somewhat frightened that I’m becoming my father, I undoubtedly did need the sleep, following an extra-long week. So I can’t say I’m too upset with myself.

So fear not–I’ll have some final thoughts on the game tomorrow, when no one will care anymore. And I promise to start sleeping more during the week so that this never happens again.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Big Ten 1, ACC 0: Wisconsin vs. Virginia Tech

We've got an early leader for game of the year. Yesterday I predicted a possible overtime finish for the Wisconsin-Virginia Tech game, showing that on rare occasions, I can come close to the truth. I’m glad that Trevon Hughes kept things from heading to an extra period, though. This was an important game, though, as it marked the first time that I spent the night yelling like an idiot at my television as a game unfolded. Yep, all it took was one fantastic game to start tugging at my emotions again. Thoughts on what I saw below:

1) Currently, Keaton Nankivil isn't exactly performing as the pure power player that he is. Last night's game was seemingly the fourth or fifth game in a row where Nankivil botched a scoring opportunity by failing to go up as strongly with a shot as he should have. You need to go strong when finesse isn’t your game. I've still got extremely high hopes for Nankivil, though, so I'm hoping that this is just a temporary bump in the road.

2) Virginia Tech freshman Victor Davila looked dominant during the brief stretch during which he scored 6 straight points in the post. And it's a good thing that he's really good at basketball, because otherwise people would just know him as "that dude without a chin."

3) While it normally irks me when people complain about foul differential in Wisconsin games, I have to admit that it sure didn't seem like the refs were doing any favors for Virginia Tech last evening. I can't help but feel sorry for forward Jeff Allen, who managed to foul out on three questionable fouls and one infraction (the final one) that came about only because he tripped. i can't recall the last time I saw a guy foul out without getting at least one good hack or charge, but Allen managed to pick up nothing but weird fouls.

4) One of Allen's fouls came as he readied himself to challenge a Rob Wilson drive down the lane, and Wilson grazed Allen as he leapt to take a shot. Color commentator Bill Raftery praised Wilson for his presence of mind in drawing a key foul on Allen to send him to the bench. However, based on what I've seen of Wilson, I suspect that this play was more reflective of his always-attacking mentality than any sort of crafty plan that he had in mind. Either way, it worked out just fine for the Badgers.

5) It's not basketball-related, but since it was constantly on the ESPN2 crawl at the bottom of the screen I have to ask--is there anyone having a worse week than Plaxico Burress? I can't fathom what it would be like to not only shoot myself, but to get arrested and charged with a crime because I shot myself, and have that story running non-stop on ESPN.

6) The announcers praised it ad nauseum, but since it was so right and so important, it bears noting that Wisconsin was remarkably patient in their offense last evening. Virginia Tech is not an easy team to break down on the defensive end, and Wisconsin needed nearly every second to find a shot on most of their trips down the court. Undoubtedly the biggest factor in the Badgers taking home the win was the fact that no one on their team panicked when they saw 10 seconds left on the shot clock. (Okay, Trevon Hughes occassionally forced something with 8-10 seconds left, but that's also sort of his job.)

7) Did anyone else have tons of video hiccups during the broadcast of the game, or do I just need to get the position of my dish checked out?

8) Virginia Tech's trapping 1-3-1 defense that they broke out on a few occasions during the game was pretty scary to watch as a Wisconsin fan. I'm very thankful that the energy required to run that defense would have had Virginia Tech's guards collapsing with heart attacks if they had to run it all game, becuase on the few defensive stands when the Hokies pulled the 1-3-1 out of their bag of tricks, it was apparent that Wisconsin was working even harder than the Hokies just to avoid a turnover.

9) I can't heap enough superlatives on Virginia Tech's A.D. Vassello and his performance last night. Simply awesome. As if his being nearly automatic from three-point range down the stretch wasn't enough, he also made a number of key plays on the defensive end. I can't imagine that we'll see a better performance in the next two days of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. I’ve seen few better in the last few years.

10) Deep into the second half, I thought Virginia Tech just did a nice job of screening for Vassello and finding ways to get open, but I do have to admit that earlier in the evening it looked like Joe Krabbenhoft had a few moments with Vassello and otherwise where he was a step slow on defense. Fortunately, Krabbenhoft came through when it mattered, but it appears that not even my favorite player is infalable.

11) I know that A.D. Vassello pretty clearly earned the respect of Wisconsin, and that he also came away with some respect for the Badgers. How do I know this? Very simple--lots of man hugs during the post-game handshake line. You don't go the extra mile and lean in for the one-armed hug unless you really appreciate your opponent.

And with that, the Big Ten put themselves up 1-0 in the Challenge, and I went to shovel some snow and test out my new roof rake. This Big Ten lead shouldn’t last, assuming history is any sort of guide. In the meantime, here are my picks for the next two nights of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge (winners in bold):

Wake Forest vs. Indiana: Is there really any question here? Indiana nearly lost to Chaminade in the last place game of the Maui Invite. I'm putting the over-under on Indiana players that transfer at the end of the year at three. On the plus side, I can only assume that Tom Crean already has players recruited to fill those spots.

Clemson vs. Illinois: I don’t know enough about either team to talk intelligently, so I’ll fall back to my old crutches and pick Clemson both because I have a cousin that went there, and because Champaign is maybe the most disappointing Big Ten city that I’ve had the opportunity to visit.

North Carolina vs. Michigan State: Michigan State is a pretty good team. So was Notre Dame. North Carolina is a great team, and they destroy good teams. But at least the fact that this one's being played at Ford Field should make things interesting.

Duke vs. Purdue: I'll take Purdue. As a Wisconsin fan, I feel a kinship with Purdue, the Big Ten's other team that's successful, but not flashy. Wisconsin couldn't get the job done last year, but Purdue wins this one for all the boring teams out there.

Boston College vs. Iowa: I'm still waiting for Todd Lickliter to get some more talent into his programs, so for now, I have to take BC.

Ohio State vs. Miami: Miami destroyed a decent San Diego team and B.J. Mullens has yet to start following in Greg Oden and Kosta Koufos’s footsteps for OSU.

Virginia vs. Minnesota: Minnesota stays unbeaten as Tubby Smith continues to make the Gophers relevant again.

Maryland vs. Michigan: Michigan comes into this one extra motivated, wanting to steal some bragging rights after Maryland beat their in-state rival, Michigan State, and takes the win.

Florida State vs. Northwestern: You know, I feel like having Northwestern in this thing every year really puts the Big Ten at a disadvantage.

Georgia Tech vs. Penn State: You know, I feel like having Penn State in this thing every year really puts the Big Ten at a disadvantage.

So I've got the ACC taking yet another year of the Challenge 7-4. I'm hoping that the Big Ten can prove me wrong, though, and finally steal some measure of respect from the ACC. We'll see how things turn out...

Monday, December 01, 2008

Feast Weekend In Madison: Wisconsin vs. UWM

I saw a lot of basketball over Thanksgiving weekend, though not as much as I had anticipated. I found myself amused by Michigan State, disappointed by Marquette, amazed by North Carolina, and impressed by Gonzaga. And in the midst of all the TV watching, I had the opportunity to make it to Saturday’s Wisconsin-UWM game. After a solid start by UWM, Wisconsin adjusted, UWM got out of its game, and the Badgers rolled to victory. It was a similar story to the Panther's trip to Marquette last week. Thoughts on Saturday's game below:

1) I made the trip to Saturday’s game with my good friend Samip, who lived next door to me when I was a freshman in college and probably sat next to me during more Badger games during my academic career than anyone else I know. This fact is well documented by a prominent clip of us being included in a Big Ten commercial that ran for three years, and a random photo that we found our way into that appeared in a couple of Wisconsin media guides. The lesson here? If you want to appear in promotional materials for the University of Wisconsin, it’s helpful if one of your friends is a non-white student that doesn’t need to be Photoshopped into being at the event.

2) It was a quick offensive start on the day for Joe Krabbenhoft, who took advantage of the fact that he was being guarded by players much smaller than him. I’d be okay if Krabbenhoft decided at this point in his career that he wanted to altogether abandon shooting three-pointers, but in general, he finally looks to be shooting the ball with confidence.

3) I was sort of disappointed that UWM big man James Eayrs didn’t have a better day. Eayrs is always noticeable when he comes into games due to the 300+ pounds that he packs onto his 6'7" frame. However, Eayrs does have some skill, and shoots the ball much better than he showed in three horrific attempts from the perimeter. So unfortunately, after Eayrs rough shooting day, Wisconsin fans who only see him once this year will just think of him as a big goon who tossed up crazy outside shots whenever he had the chance. Hopefully a handful of people will see UWM play a game or two later this season and realize that Eayrs is something other than a big joke.

4) After finally getting a close look at him this season, I’m not a big fan of UWM’s Deonte Roberts. UWM was shorthanded at guard after Ricky Franklin’s drunk driving arrest earlier in the week, but Roberts looked like he was trying to take all of Franklin’s responsibilities and put them on his shoulders. Rather than letting the game come to him, he was constantly forcing action, and looked to be playing a different game than his teammates. In short, he looked like the entire UWM squad did in the second half against Marquette, when they seemed to immediately forget that they had played almost even during the first half and decided to abandon their game plan and play one-on-one for stretches.

5) I know holiday games aren’t usually well attended, but I was really disappointed with the crowd on Saturday for a non-televised game against an in-state rival. Wisconsin sells out every game before the season even begins, so it’s sort of annoying when there’s several thousand empty seats that can’t seem to find their way into anyone’s hands.

6) It was nice to see Trevon Hughes and Jordan Taylor getting into the lane at will against UWM’s defense, though it was a bit upsetting early in the game when that penetration seemed to be Wisconsin’s only way of setting up a decent shot.

7) I’m still sort of torn on how I feel about Jon Leuer. On one hand, it always sort of bothers me to watch his super-mechanical way of shooting a jump shot. On the other hand, there are few things that I enjoy more than seeing him shoot a reverse lay-up. As the story goes, Leuer wasn’t even close to being 6'10" until a sudden growth spurt late in high school, and you can really see that when he shoots the reverse, since he attacks the lane like a 6'1" guard, but then you suddenly notice that he has ridiculously long arms.

8) Was there really nowhere else that they could find to stash the visiting UWM cheerleaders on Saturday? Because I can’t think of a more awkward place for them to be than sharing the half of the baseline that the Wisconsin cheerleaders usually use, right in front of the Wisconsin student section. Fortunately, despite the opposing squads being separated by only about 4 inches of air, a cheerleader fight didn’t break out. I can’t imagine the insults that must have been hurled by the student section, though.

9) I used to laugh at Marquette halftime fan shooting contests for how absurdly difficult they were to win (they’ve since become remarkably more reasonable), but I got a similar chuckle out of the underwhelming value of the prizes in the contests at the half of the Wisconsin game yesterday. The first contest offered up to $50 in Quaker Steak & Lube gift cards if the contestant could make five shots, and the second offered $200 in cash if the contestant could sink one of two three-point shots. Sure, the $200 prize was part of some promotion where the jackpot doubled at the next game if the shot wasn’t made, but the fact remains–there was a grand total of $250 at stake on Saturday, which feels like sort of a lowball offer in a sold-out 18,000 seat arena.

10) The only player not to see the floor for the Badgers on Saturday was J.P. Gavinski (Jared Berggren also didn’t take off the warm-ups, but the assumption would be that he’s still likely to redshirt). I felt sort of bad for the big fellow, as it had to be sort of frustrating to watch every one of his teammates log a couple of garbage minutes while he kept his seat on the bench. Garbage time’s got to be a bit difficult for Bo Ryan to manage, though, with two guys on the squad who see limited minutes during games (Kevin Gullikson and Rob Wilson) and four guys who don’t see the floor at all (Ian Markolf and the three walk ons, Morris Cain, Brett Valentyn and Wquinton Smith). If you factor in Gavinski, that’s seven guys. Tough to get time for seven guys in two minutes.

11) Being at a game with Samip and knowing some of his favorite Madison spots, I figured that it would be tough to get out of town without a quick stop for a slice at the ever popular Ian’s Pizza, just up the street from the Kohl Center. I was happy to make the stop, though. I was always more of a Casa Bianca man during my days in school, but with its downtown location since closed, Ian’s macaroni and cheese pizza is the best thing going and is an adequate substitute in the absence of Casa’s spinach slice. An added bonus is that a crew trained to handle the rush of students at bar time was more than up to the task of handling a sudden rush of fully sober basketball fans in prompt fashion.

12) The most amusing sight of the day came as I was leaving Ian’s and saw Ian Markolf (no relation) heading away from the Kohl Center on his moped. It’s not every day that you see a 7'1" guy riding a moped, and it was the most amusing moped sighting that I’ve had since about 10 years ago, when I happened upon 400-pound Badger football player Aaron Gibson working his way up a hill on a moped that sounded as if it wished it was dead.

So that’s one more game in the books. As always, the ACC-Big Ten Challenge has snuck up on me, but I will have predictions up tomorrow morning. As for tonight’s first game between Wisconsin and Virginia Tech, I think it should be about as close as they come, but see Wisconsin eeking out the victory in the end, perhaps in overtime. This would be a helpful way to start things, as the Big Ten isn’t exactly known for its great performances in this annual throwdown.

Back tomorrow with my predictions and some game thoughts.

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