Friday, January 16, 2009

Ouch, and Other Random Thoughts

A few quick thoughts on a bunch of things on this, the day after a soul-crushing Wisconsin loss:

1) There’s not much that I can say after a loss like the Badgers had last night. That was about as hard a loss to take as I can think of. At the four minute time-out I was sitting at a bar with my friend Gus (thankfully, I had abandoned a crazy idea that I had come up with earlier to drive to Madison and try to take advantage of scalpers who wanted to get out of the -40 degree weather) gathering up my coat and thinking about how I wanted to go home and go to sleep as soon as Wisconsin ran the clock out on the Gophers. The next thing I knew, it was 10:20 and Minnesota was capping its comeback at the end of overtime. Unreal, and not in a good way.

2) As for the comeback itself last night, I give a lot of credit to Minnesota. The Gophers executed their pressure defense and hit a bunch of huge shots, not the least of which was the semi-off balance three-pointer by Lawrence Westbrook that sent the game to overtime. If I’m a coach trying to drive home the point that you should never give up, I’m showing my team a tape of the Gophers in the last three minutes of this game. All that said, stellar as Minnesota played at the end, there’s no way they win that game without several miscues by Wisconsin. I’ve never seen the Badgers look totally unprepared before, but that’s exactly how they looked when Minnesota broke out its full-court press near the end of the game. The first three attempts to break the press made the Badgers look flat out silly. And even once Wisconsin did figure out how to break the press, they continued to try to score on quick shots rather than pulling the ball out and trying to slow things down (Actually, Jason Bohannon did slow things down...while shooting a layup that was wide-open before his slowness allowed a Minnesota defender to catch up to him. Ugh.). Again, Minnesota did everything right to steal that game at the end, but they still don’t steal it with some help from Wisconsin.

3) Prior to the Wisconsin game last night, I kicked off the evening by watching Northwestern and Purdue square off. Much like Wisconsin, Northwestern maintained a healthy lead over Purdue for the entire game until the very end (which I missed, due to the changeover of every television at the tavern I was at to the Wisconsin-Minnesota game). I can’t help but contemplate how different things in the Big Ten would be today if both Northwestern and Wisconsin had closed out their games (or for that matter, if Purdue and Minnesota had just given up).

4) Much as Wisconsin’s loss hurt last night, I suppose I can take some consolation in the fact that they didn’t end up losing by 14 points in overtime, like Notre Dame did earlier in the week. That collapse was tough to watch, even if I was rooting for Louisville.

5) Some day I hope to have the patience and discipline to take a count of the total number of ads shown during a Big Ten basketball game that are for something other than the Big Ten or the Big Ten Network. It amazes me how little advertising that channel is able to sell.

6) Color me excited that a) UWM is playing well in the Horizon League and b) James Eayrs is becoming this year’s breakout player for the Panthers. It wasn’t that long ago that I was at the Wisconsin-UWM game lamenting the fact that everyone at the Kohl Center thought that the oversized Eayrs was some sort of joke. While it is novel to have a man of Eayrs size on one’s roster, he’s finally showing that he’s no joke, putting up solid numbers and logging nearly 30 minutes per night these days. How do you not root for a guy that, as my friend T.J. once noted, bears a resemblance to Rudy’s friend Peter on The Cosby Show?

7) I didn’t get the chance to mention my trip to Whitewater last weekend, but the UW-Whitewater vs. UW-Eau Claire game turned out to be better than it had any right to be. Whitewater looked like they were going to run away with things, taking just 15 minutes to build a 26-point lead at the start of the game (when Whitewater’s on, I have a tough time imagining another division 3 team that can stop them). Slowly but surely, though, Eau Claire battled its way back in the second half to put the game in doubt during the final 3-4 minutes. In the end, Whitewater righted its ship and hung on for the win, but it was not without a fight from the Bluegolds. I still think that Whitewater’s admission price of $7 is a tad on the high side, but it’s essentially worth it when a) you see a game this entertaining, and b) you realize that there’s not really anything else that you could be doing in Whitewater.

8) I don’t want to jinx things, but even without a credible big man, Marquette is playing as well as I’ve seen them play since a guy by the name of Dwyane Wade was on the roster (and, of course, a guy by the name of Robert Jackson, who I’m always happy to argue was at least as important as Wade to that team, if not moreso). The Big East is a meat grinder, but the Golden Eagles have done a nice job of piling up early wins against the teams just outside of the top tier (and, of course, lowly Cincinnati).

9) After a week’s layoff, I think someone around the Marquette athletic department had some time on their hands prior to last weekend’s West Virginia game. New wrinkles added to the entertainment experience were a clock counting down the number of seconds before people realize that they’re on the Jumbotron, and a question and answer segment where the MU players answer random, wacky questions (much like the “ask the Badgers” segment done during Wisconsin football games). Despite a few things needing to be refined with each addition, I liked both, and liked even more that the Marquette staff is constantly trying to find ways to make games more entertaining.

10) I haven’t seen a high school game in weeks, and it looks like that’s not going to change tonight, seeing as all of the schools are closed for another day due to the extreme cold temperatures in Wisconsin today. But seeing as the last prep hoops game that I saw took place in the state of New York, I’m itching to take one in, so it’s a good bet that you’ll be able to find me in a high school gym somewhere in the greater Milwaukee area next Tuesday.

11) It’s going to be weird at the end of the year seeing both the Big Ten and Big East champs with 4-5 losses, given that the former will be due to the fact that there are no great teams in the Big Ten this year, and the latter is due to the presence of too many excellent teams in the Big East this year. And I think my view on this topic is probably going to get me into a few fights with several of my friends who, like me, are more Big Ten-oriented.

Enjoy your weekend. I’ll enjoy mine, assuming that my doors don’t freeze and leave me stuck in my home...


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