Thursday, February 26, 2009

Marquette vs. UConn: The Injury Bug Bites

It was a rough night for Marquette last night, losing not only a big game, but also one of its key players for the rest of the year. There was a buzz of excitement in the air last evening that is rarely seen at a basketball game around here, and it’s a shame that things didn’t turn out better than they did. But even so, it was still a fun night. Some reflections below:

1) Obviously the story of the night is not the loss to UConn, but the loss of starting point guard Dominic James for the year with a broken foot. Losing a four year starter always hurts, but it hurts a bit more with James, who this year finally seemed to be figuring out how to best help his team. After an incredible freshman year where James was showered with accolades and talked about as an early first-round NBA draft pick, his subsequent sophomore and junior seasons felt at times like they were merely vehicles for him to prove to scouts that he could shoot from the outside (ironically, he ended up proving that he still couldn't shoot from the outside). But this year he seemed to actually relish his role as a defender and distributor. Sure, I still cringed when he pulled up for three-pointers this year, but that was more a conditioned response from the past, since his shot selection was now much improved. James will undoubtedly be missed by Marquette down the stretch. It remains to be seen, however, whether his injury will turn the Golden Eagles from a special team to a merely excellent one.

2) Very impressive showing by the two gentlemen who broke out a choreographed dance routine to the song "Thriller" that was playing during the Jumbotron dance competition that takes place every game. As always, the winner of the contest won a $250 gift certificate to Bubb's Barbeque, sponsor of the contest. I've been sort of thrown by this contest all season long for two reasons. First, outside of their sponsorship of Marquette games, no one that I know has ever heard of Bubb's Barbeque. Second, $250 seems like it would buy one hell of a lot of barbeque. For a place that no one's heard of, it almost seems like a desperate type of prize to give away. Part of me wonders if Bubb's Barbeque doesn't actually exist, but is simply a fake sponsor designed to bring more excitement to the game.

3) While the drama of the game was outstanding, the seating conflict in my section may have been almost as amusing. My section was located behind one of the handicapped seating areas. One gentleman in the handicapped area with a family member spent a good portion of the game standing up to cheer on Marquette. Several people in my section took exception to this and yelled at him to sit down and stop blocking their view. Eventually the usher was asked by one of the people in my section to intervene. The usher spoke with the standing gentleman and the complaining parties without actually resolving anything, and then called for more Bradley Center personnel to further sort things out. As an impartial observer, it was unclear whether the usher had actually taken a side in this matter. For the second half, as many as five, but at no time fewer than three Bradley Center employees maintained a presence at the entrance to our section. At various times the employees would talk to the standing guy and then talk to the complainants. The standing guy continued to stand from time to time (at certain times, I suspect, just egg on the loudest complainers), the complainers kept complaining, and none of the five representatives of the arena ever did anything to even come close to resolving the situation.

My take on the situation? Aside from viewing it as the most mind bogglingly ineffective usher moment ever, I think that pretty much everyone involved in the situation was an idiot. The complainers were idiots for complaining about a guy who was probably no closer than 8 feet to any of them and who blocked only a small percentage of the view in our section (not to mention that no one in my section last night seemed much interested in standing, themselves. No one has a right to an absolutely unimpeded view. The standing guy was an idiot for frequently standing in the designated handicapped area and acting in an openly defiant manner to those who questioned his right to stand there. And obviously, the Bradley Center staff is at the top of the idiot list, for involving five employees in the situation without even coming close to solving the problem. (Unfortunately, this was not the grandest display of idiocy I would see on the evening, as later, while grabbing post-game drinks at a bar, one of my friends nearly came to blows with another gentleman over a game of pool that neither of them were participants in. Brilliant, guys.)
4) For all of the fear about Hasheem Thabeet, I thought he turned out to be just about what was expected against Marquette. He had some highlight-reel blocks, his mere presence altered a lot of shots, and he had the occasional moment where someone dumped the ball into him on offense at a spot above the heads of everyone else on the floor (I think I even saw one botched "Kenny George" moment, where a player just randomly tossed the ball up in the lane and waited for Thabeet to go get it). I don’t know what Thabeet is thinking about in terms of NBA future, but I hope he sticks around another year. As is well known, his offensive game needs some work, and I’d say he’s a textbook example of a big guy who hurts himself by needlessly bringing the ball down below his waist in the post. Stop the rhythm dribble, Hasheem!

5) At one point in the first half, I actually theorized that Marquette would have an easier task shooting the ball in the second half because Connecticut was dunking so much that it would lead to a loosened rim.

6) I’d like to give the Lynn Greer Memorial Award (In honor of former Temple guard Lynn Greer, who put on the most frightening offensive display I’ve ever seen in person against Wisconsin back when I was in school. Contrary to what the name implies, Greer is not actually dead.) to A.J. Price. Wow. It’s one thing to go off for 36 points and hit eight 3-pointers in a night, but it’s another thing to do it with a defender like Jerel McNeal chasing you around for much of the night. At a certain point, all I could do was shake my head in amazement.

7) Just a pet peeve of mine that has been building all season, but next year can we do away with the rule where refs get to stop the game and look at a video replay to check if a player’s feet were behind the three-point line? I’d gladly accept an occasional missed call if we end the practice of breaking the flow of the game three times per night to look at the video monitor to confirm a call. It was a noble idea, but it just doesn’t work.

8) While he obviously doesn’t completely replace Dominic James, Maurice Acker gave Marquette some good minutes last night. I was never totally sure why he had recently become essentially the seventh man in a six man rotation, because he’s never been a guy that makes me concerned when he’s out there. Clearly I’d rather not have him playing 30 minutes per game, as he may do from here on out, but Acker doesn’t give you the major drop-off in the rotation that you would see if you dug into the guys after him on the bench.

9) Speaking of the guys on the bench, it’s going to be very interesting to see how Buzz Williams goes about using his rotation from here on out. While he was basically just using six guys before, with James out of the picture, he literally has just six guys that have played meaningful minutes in the last few weeks. Now’s not a great time to work a new guy into the mix, but it seems almost implausible to go another month by just riding things out with one sub now that the team is down to three stellar players instead of four.

10) It was a nice night of signs at the Bradley Center. Two favorites of mine were the giant ("not a") Dimes with Jim Calhoun’s head on them, and the "We’re Buzzed" signs made by a couple of students that inexplicably made it onto the Jumbotron. Those crazy kids and their drinking...

11) I heard a radio host earlier this week talking about how much unnecessary gloom and doom he had seen surrounding Marquette of late, with people getting overly worried about this final stretch of games. I saw a lot of that last night. One of my friends was talking last night about how this loss likely ruined Marquette’s seed for the NCAA tournament. Whoa there, calm down! Last night was tough, but in the grand scheme of things Marquette played well enough to beat 90% of the teams in the country and hung in with arguably the best team in the country. And they did so after losing a four-year starter roughly three minutes into the game. I simply can’t be too despondent over that.

So it wasn’t a great night for Marquette. I’m still optimistic going forward. Last Tuesday I predicted to some friends that Marquette would go no worse than 3-2 in their final five-game stretch. While James’ injury changes things, I still believe that my earlier prediction will prove to be correct. Marquette’s going to play three more outstanding teams, but what people seem to be discounting a bit too much now that we’re at this point in the year is that Marquette’s a pretty outstanding team, too. Things will work out.

Tonight will be a bit of a change-up for me, as I will go from rooting for Marquette, to rooting vehemently against Marquette. Marquette High School, that is, as Marquette battles Tosa East for the Greater Metro conference championship. Two historically fierce rivals, each with one defeat, battling for conference supremacy in the final game of the year. You couldn’t script this one much better. Marquette won the first one. How will the second game turn out? However it does, it will be fun...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Three Minutes of Ineptitude

While I’ve been to plenty of entertaining games over the past several weeks, for some reason it was not until last evening that I was moved to actually write about something that I’ve seen (actually, that’s not totally accurate, as below I also had the chance to recap the Marquette-Seton Hall game). I didn’t make it down to the UWM-Butler game last night for a variety of reasons (Mostly I was pouting over the fact that I couldn’t find anyone to go to a rock concert that I wanted to see last night.) But that ended up being a good thing, because it allowed me to watch the game on TV and witness something so comically bad that I had to talk about it.

Some of you are probably thinking that I’m talking about the clock mix-up at the end of the game, where controversy ensued over when the game clock started on Butler’s final possession of the game. But I’m talking about something far worse–the announcing of Daron Sutton.

I’ve never been a big fan of Sutton’s broadcast work on UWM games (I frankly don’t know enough about baseball to comment on his baseball announcing skills), but a 2-3 minute stretch last night Sutton and his broadcast partner took things to a new level of ineptitude. With about 2:30 left on the clock in the second half, James Eayrs got tangled up with Butler’s Matt Howard while trying to reign in a loose ball and Eayrs was whistled for an intentional foul.. You could tell that Eayrs foul was an intentional because the referee making the call immediately ran to the play with his hands crossed above his head, the signal for an intentional foul. Sutton and his partner (whose name I wish I could recall, so that I could include him in this shaming) apparently missed the referee in the center of every replay that they watched making one of the most clear hand signals in the game of basketball, as they spent the next 2-3 minutes talking about how offsetting fouls had been called on each Eayrs and Howard. No mention was made of an intentional foul call.

I actually began to question whether I was misinformed about something at that point. I wondered to myself "Is the hand signal for a double foul the same as the hand signal for an intentional foul? Maybe this just happens so infrequently that I don’t know the signal for it." After all, the television crew is presumably fairly close to the scorer’s table and likely hears a lot more referee chatter than I, the home viewer, am privy to. Maybe I just didn’t have all of the information.

As the referees sorted things out and the television reply of the referee clearly signaling an intention foul showed for what seemed like the 15th time, Sutton and his broadcast partner continued their maddening chatter about the double foul that they believed had been called. When Howard eventually stepped to the foul line with no one around him, they briefly speculated that UWM had been whistled for a technical foul before finally figuring out that an intentional foul had been called on Eayrs. As abruptly as this hit them, I can only speculate that some nearby sports writer got tired of overhearing their misreading of the play and finally piped up and said "Hey morons–it was an intentional foul. Were you even watching the replays?" However they eventually figured out what had happened, I was just happy that I could finally breathe a sigh of relief. I was not insane, and had I not been listening to the television announcers, I’d have known exactly what was going on. I guess I was wrong in assuming that the announcers would always be helpful in understanding the events of the game.

Of course, I would be unfair to Sutton and his partner if I didn’t point out that the intentional foul on the play in question was a horrible call. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an intentional foul called in a situation like that. Had I not seen the referee running towards the play with his arms crossed, I’d have been confused by the whole affair, too. But confusing as the call was, that doesn’t excuse the fact that the broadcasting team either didn’t notice the guy in stripes making the intentional foul signal, or didn’t know what the signal meant. That two minute stretch last night was truly a low point for sports broadcasting.

Looking on the bright side (as I always like to do), I feel a lot less upset now about not having the Time Warner Sports Channel at home, and those thoughts that I occasionally have about switching back to Time Warner Cable have subsided a bit. So maybe I should be thanking Daron Sutton and his pal for saving me some hassle.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Marqutte vs. Seton Hall: A Surprising Entertaining Game

Ah, it’s been awhile. I’ve actually had some great game-watching experiences over the past few weeks, be it my trip to Iowa, my evening in Madison watching the Badgers end their losing streak, or this past Saturday when I managed to catch much of the UWM game on the radio before watching the Marquette game in person and shuttling home to watch Wisconsin on my DVR. But my documenting of games has been non-existent. I could throw some crazy excuse at you about lack of time or computer problems (actually, my work computer has been basically dead for the past two weeks), but ultimately my absence has come down to laziness. No promises that I’ll start writing more, because as history has shown, I’m pretty good at breaking promises, and I probably won’t ramp things up too much even as March approaches. But when there’s a surprisingly amusing game like last night’s Marquette-Seton Hall contest, I can’t help but make a few notes. And for today, here are those notes.

1) It was Milwaukee Public Schools Night at the game last evening, a fact that was first brought to the attention of the crowd when the Milwaukee Riverside swing choir was brought out to sing the national anthem. They did a nice job, but I couldn’t help but be a bit taken aback to learn that Milwaukee Riverside has a swing choir. I also couldn’t help but think that it must take some courage to be a part of the Riverside swing choir. High school was a long time ago for me now, but I seem to recall that people in the swing choir took a lot of crap from their peers. I can only assume this level of crap quadruples when the swing choir is in a city school, rather than a soft, suburban school setting.

2) Did my brain completely atrophy for a short time, or did the public address announcer completely fail to announce Seton Hall’s starting lineup? I know that usually there’s a quick introduction of the opposing starters where the announcer makes a point of sounding as if he’d rather be water boarded than read the names of the interlopers from another school. But at least there’s a small degree of courtesy there. Just glossing over the other team altogether seems a bit harsh. Then again, as I said, I’m not even sure that things went down like this, so maybe there were intros for Seton Hall. I sure don’t remember them, though.

3) It has been back for five of six games by now, but I like seeing the return of the classic "Where the Streets Have No Name" player introduction sequence for Marquette. I’m always mildly bothered by the fact that this sequence was almost certainly conceived of in part because of Tom Crean’s intense love of U2. But I’m willing to look beyond that because however it originated, it just feels right when the things get going. The crowd knows what to do, and gets excited every time that the music starts up. Perhaps the only thing that would make things better in my mind is if they brought back Jumbotron shots of the players doing ball slaps and looking angry as the music starts up.

4) A few comments to the guy sitting two rows behind me last night. One, the refs were not blind when they failed to call those over and back and out of bounds calls that you thought they missed. They merely understand the rules better than you. Two, do you really need to question every foul call? You’re sitting in row W of the second deck of Bradley Center and the refs are on the floor. I’m guessing that occasionally, they may have a better angle than you. Three, again, you’re sitting in row W of the Bradley Center, so when you scream at the top of your lungs to the ref that he should either open his eyes or get some glasses, he probably can’t hear you. My head’s five feet from yours, though, so I hear you loud and clear, and I don’t think that you’re nearly as amusing as the nearby giggling women who aren’t directly in front of your mouth do.

5) The first half was, for both teams, one of the sloppier halves of basketball that I’ve seen all year. There was a solid five minute stretch where I had trouble counting the number of times that Marquette players threw passes directly into the legs or barely outstretched arms of Seton Hall defenders. Most of the time Big East basketball is more exciting to watch than Big Ten basketball, but for a good portion of last night I found myself just wanting to see a team that could take care of the ball.

6) It’s not every night that you get to see three technical fouls in a game. None of the T’s handed out seemed like they were for particularly egregious offenses. Then again, as I would probably have told the guy behind me in row W, it’s pretty tough to hear what the players and coaches are saying when you’re sitting at the top of the Bradley Center.

7) The last couple of times that I’ve been to the Bradley Center I’ve seen a small banner bearing the image of Martin Luther King, Jr. displayed in a lonely corner, away from all of the Marquette, Milwaukee Bucks and Milwaukee Admirals banners. Is this banner there for Black History Month? And if so, why is it so darn small? Because frankly, with as tiny as it is in comparison to every other banner in the building, it looks like someone just forgot to take down a decoration that was hung during an MLK Day tournament.

8) My friend Dez asked the very valid question of where Patrick Hazel was after the game ended. I suppose that Hazel wasn’t really needed last night, seeing as Marquette pulled away from Seton Hall easily in the second half, and one of the Pirates’ frontcourt players fouled out with nearly 15 minutes to go. But with Hazel finding his way completely out of the rotation of late, it seems official–Marquette’s not even going to fake like it has forwards on its roster from here on out. Even though Hazel has looked good to me in limited minutes, I suppose I can’t really argue with holding him out too much. After all, the way things are going so far, it appears that Buzz Williams knows what he’s doing (don’t take that as a full endorsement of Williams, though, as I’m not passing judgment on him until the 2010-11 season).

9) During a break in the action in the second half, it was announced that Wesley Matthews had become Marquette’s all-time leader in made free throws, and that Jerel McNeal had become Marquette’s all-time steals leader. I think we’re finally at the fun part of the season where milestones like this will be reached every game by someone. I guess this is what happens when you’ve got three of the better players in school history starting together for four years.

10) Last evening featured the Milwaukee King drum line performing at halftime as part of the festivities for Milwaukee Public Schools night. I’ve seen various drum lines from Milwaukee public high schools at events like these, and I’m always wildly impressed. I’m glad that we get to see groups like this from time to time. Because for as many bad things as we hear about Milwaukee Public Schools, it’s nice to see a group of kids that can do something that seems to take a remarkable amount of skill, discipline and commitment. Dare I say that they were even more entertaining than Saturday’s entertainment, the magical super-fast clothing changing duo, Quick Change.

11) I’m not sure what amazed me more on Jimmy Butler’s thunderous alley-oop dunk late in the second half–the height that Butler got on his leap, or the precision with which Wesley Matthews tossed the ball from halfcourt.

Post game, I passed on drinks with friends (the economy is affecting us all, it seems) and headed home. It was time to start thinking about the UWM-Butler game the next day. And its never disappointing to hear the Marquette post-game radio show. Things start to get interesting with Marquette’s trip to Georgetown this weekend to kick off their brutal five-game stretch. I, for one, am really looking forward to seeing them exceed expectations.

Friday, February 06, 2009


Had I known that all it would take for Wisconsin to end its losing streak was for me to attend a game in person, I'd have headed to the Kohl Center long ago. It's not a great season, and last night wasn't a marquee game, but I can recall few happier drives home after a game. Here's hoping for a few more pleasant trips to Madison in the coming weeks.

I'd say more about my excellent night (the fact that I'm the world's worst purchaser of scalped tickets needs to be touched on at some point), but I'm about 10 minutes away from heading to Iowa to watch some division three basketball this weekend. Good chance that I'll actually get off my ass and write something in a few days when I get back...

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