Friday, December 18, 2009

Wrapping Up Jeronne Maymon (and Fun With Quotes!)

For as much as I’ve alluded this week to a discussion of it, I’m not sure there’s much that I can say about Jeronne Maymon’s departure from the Marquette basketball team that’s unique. It would be tough for nearly any reasonable person to look at the decision made by Jeronne Maymon and not think it’s a remarkably hasty choice that’s bound to impact him in a negative way. Coach Buzz Williams and Maymon’s father, Tim, have both confirmed that the departure is due to Maymon’s disagreement with the way that he is being utilized. Maymon has been asked to play primarily a post position, despite an understanding at the time of his commitment that he would be spending time at shooting guard and small forward.

What Maymon’s dismay with this situation overlooks is that Marquette is currently a team with a number of guards and without a healthy, legitimate post player above the height of 6'6". At 6'6" and 250 pounds, he was the player most well-suited to pick up minutes in the post and was the logical player to fill that hole for the Golden Eagles. Not an ideal situation for anyone, but given the current roster, Maymon playing down low was a borderline necessity. He should have been able to see this, particularly with senior teammate, Lazar Hayward, thriving in the role that Maymon likely wished to fill, after years of playing out of position in the post. Maymon was literally playing alongside a guy doing exactly what he wanted to do, and who had started exactly the same way as Maymon was starting out and somehow failed to notice. Making things even more frustrating, Maymon was showing nice progress on the court, and looked like he would have been a solid contributor for his career at Marquette had he continued to plug away. But ten games in, he apparently was frustrated that he wasn't there yet.

Of course, we’ll never know how good Maymon would have been at Marquette, because he was unable to show the patience to wait his turn and contribute as asked this season. I’d be angry at Maymon if it wasn’t such a sad situation. While Maymon himself has had the good sense not to speak publicly about his departure, his father has been characteristically outspoken. Comments from Tim Maymon reveal an inflated opinion of his son’s abilities, and imply a misguided belief that college will only be a short detour on Jeronne Maymon’s journey to the NBA (a journey that, in reality, is a long shot, at best). Such beliefs would appear to be the only explanation for the prompt departure of Jeronne Maymon, who by any reasonable standard, was essentially thriving in his limited role as a freshman. One would hope that despite the misguided approach to his career, he’ll manage to at least find some benefit from his basketball abilities in the form of a college degree. Because it will be a sad ending when the NBA doesn’t come calling if all that Jeronne Maymon has to show for his talents is a couple of high school trophies. The fact that it took all of 10 games for him to sour on his first attempt at playing college ball doesn’t bode well, but I’m hoping that Jeronne Maymon can learn from this and stick out his next situation long enough to see some true benefits.

Of course, given that Jeronne Maymon has not commented to the media, we’re left wondering how much of this is actually his idea. So we’re left only with outrageous comments from his father to shed light on the situation. Below I’ve compiled some of the more outlandish and misguided comments attributed to Tim Maymon in various articles, and I’ll leave you with those today. Mr. Maymon’s comments appear in italics, while my own sarcastic comments follow each one in regular type. I wish I was making some of these up, but you can find every quote here, here or here. Enjoy the comments, and enjoy your weekend:

He'll play some two and some four depending on the teams. We're going to create a lot of matchups. Jeronne is going to be a hard matchup for any team we face, and depending on who their best player is, whether he's at the two, the three or the four, Jeronne will be pretty much guarding him and they'll pretty much have to guard Jeronne. We're not going to give leeway to teams because, ‘Oh, Jeronne's playing the two so we're going to move you to the three so Jeronne can't guard you.' No, Jeronne will be able to move to the two, three, four.

There are two obviously ridiculous things from this quote from Tim Maymon at the time of Jeronne Maymon’s original announcement that he would attend Marquette. First, there’s the notion that Maymon was going to step in and immediately be the team’s go-to, lock-down defender as a freshman. Not only that, he’s going to guard whoever the opposing team’s best player is, regardless of position, because he’s just that versatile. No one can hide from Jeronne Maymon. Second, I love the idea that a team would be able to avoid a matchup by simply labeling what position the player is playing. I don’t recall Buzz Williams’ press conference after losing to Villanova last season behind 27 points from Scottie Reynolds, but I’m pretty sure that he never said anything to the effect of “Well, we wanted to put Jerel McNeal, our best defender, on Reynolds, but coach Wright said that he was playing the three spot tonight, so we were forced to use Wesley Matthews on him instead, because he’s our small forward. My hands were tied.”

School's going great. That part is good. But he's not getting many touches. They're not trying to run the offense for him. They've got him playing center and that ain't what he does. So we just kind of moved on and regrouped for next year.

Well, at least Tim Maymon had realistic expectations for his son. As we know from the previous quote, he was going to immediately be a lock-down defender who guarded the best opposing player, regardless of position (*so long as that player’s not a center). As we know from this quote, he was also going to instantly be the focal point of the offense, and all sets would be designed around his skills. Oh, and from what I can glean from the previous quote, the opposing team’s best player will always be guarding him (*so long as that player’s not a center). That seems like a normal season for a freshman.

Right now, it's like he's up for recruitment. All I can say is ever since Buzz made the announcement Monday night, my phone has been ringing off the hook.

I’m going to venture that at least 50% of those calls are coming from reporters looking to get more outrageous quotes for their articles.

The bottom line is Jeronne just wanted to transfer. He just felt like it was time.

Well, at least he gave it some time. If things aren’t going to come together in almost a whole semester and nearly a dozen games, when are they?

We've just asked for a (scholarship) release so we can get out of here, because it ain't working out. He's not being used the way he needs to be used, so we're moving on.

Don’t you mean “We’re not being used the way we need to be used,” Tim?

Buzz had expressed to Jeronne that if he came there -- because he's losing three starters, not one - that Jeronne's playing time is enormous. ‘You, coming in with your talent level, you're going to play. That's just the bottom line. You're going to start and you're pretty much from 25 to 30 minutes a game.'

I’m firmly of the belief that what Tim Maymon heard and what Buzz Williams said are two completely different things. However even if you don’t believe that, it’s interesting to note that Maymon was well on his way to getting those 25 minutes per game that are talked about here. They simply weren’t at the right position for him. (Is it possible that Marquette was simply playing a lot of teams with great centers, and they simply needed Maymon to guard the best player all of the time?)

We're looking at some decent programs, like Central Florida, where Michael Jordan's son (Marcus) plays," Tim Maymon said. "That would be a great school that he could go in and they could pretty much get to the Final Four and do some damage.

Seems logical enough. I’ve long thought that adding a player who was averaging 15 minutes per game for a middle-of-the-pack Big East team was just what the storied Central Florida program needed to put them over the top in their quest to play in a Final Four. I can't believe these words actually came out of someone's mouth.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wisconsin vs. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo: Even Worse Than Expected

Last night, I sat down with every intention of closely watching the Wisconsin-Cal Poly game and compiling comments. As I sat down to take in the game, I opened up my Blue Ribbon Yearbook to get some background on Cal Poly. Turns out, they were picked to finish dead last in the Big West Conference (which is not exactly the west coast equivalent of the Big East, in case you were wondering). Their grade for Bench/Depth was “F,” marking one of the only times that I’ve ever seen such a harsh assessment in the Blue Ribbon Yearbook.

And even with this indictment of the team by the gold standard of college basketball publications, Cal Poly still played worse than I expected. The only semi-run that they made during the game came around the 8-minute mark of the first half, when they suddenly went to the Marathon Oil/Athletes in Action offense and just started tossing up threes. But going Marathon Oil seldom works for more than a couple of minutes. This might have been the worst performance that I’ve seen by a division one basketball team since the infamous Chicago State team that I saw at the Kohl Center as a student near the start of the decade. Highlights of that awful Chicago State team included most of the team laughing and joking on the bench during their lopsided defeat, and a team manager who openly conversed with the Wisconsin student section during the game about his exploits as a player for the Chicago State football team, which did not actually exist. Because Cal Poly’s team actually appeared to care about the game, I still rank them as better than Chicago State. But it’s a pretty low standard.

Didn’t see the game? Well, here’s all that you need to know–in the closing minutes of the game last night J.P. Gavinski rolled to the basket and threw down a thunderous dunk. I always enjoy seeing Gavinski and love it when he does well in garbage time, but even I must admit that a team has really mailed it in if Gavinski is looking that good. Yes, though, I still pumped my fists and let out a scream when he threw that sweet dunk down. It was an exciting night in my living room.

So no, there’s not much more to say about last night. When a game gets that out of hand that fast, there aren’t a lot of legitimate things to be gleaned from a game. Perhaps the only good thing that can be said about last night’s contest is that the Badgers got a much needed night off during exam week. Now if only they’d wrap up those pesky tests and start playing again, I’d be a happy man.

Back tomorrow with my final thoughts on Jeronne Maymom, which should not be all that surprising.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Germantown vs. Whitefish Bay: A Pleasant Tuesday Night Diversion

Last evening I took a break from reading about Jeronne Maymon (more on that in the coming days–needless to say, the more information that comes out, the less impressed I am with his decision), headed out into the cold, and took a trip out to Germantown to see the Warhawks host Whitefish Bay. Normally I’d have been pushing for a trip to the Marquette-Tosa East game, but there were a handful of compelling games in the area last night, and frankly, I didn’t care which of them I saw. So I let my friend Kevin choose the game, as I trust his opinion as much as anyone's in terms of picking out a high school game to see. He made a good call, and I got the chance to get out of my box a bit and see two intriguing North Shore Conference teams play. My quick thoughts below:

1) Germantown broke out what seems to be a dying concept these days–the pep band. It was sort of a double-edged sword to have the pep band there during the pre game and first half. On one hand, the band was impressive, belting out tons of pep band standards (who doesn’t love “Hey, Baby”), and generally setting the atmosphere for the game. On the other hand, Germantown has always been ahead of the curve in terms of using its PA system to play amusing sound cues and songs during breaks in the game (who doesn’t love to hear chimes after made free throws, like at Bucks’ games?), and the band supplanted the usual AV creativity during the early parts of the game. I guess any way you slice it, Germantown has turned into a nice place to watch a game (a far cry from my feelings about the place back in high school, when I was scolded by an annoyingly sarcastic supervisor for bringing a soda into the gym.)

2) My friend Kevin had seen Germantown prior to last evening’s game, and noted that it was a much different team from last season. He wasn’t lying. Last year the Warhawks were anchored by two big men, including outstanding forward Ben Averkamp, who has since taken his talents to Loyala. The new-look Warhawks start four sophomores and a junior, and look to be most talented at the guard spots, with highly regarded Zak Showalter and aggressive defender Josh Mongan holding down the backcourt. The frontcourt has some promise too, though, and Germantown will be a team to watch in coming years, once the players get a bit more experience under their belts. They’re actually not too shabby now, even though last night’s game wouldn’t be the best example of their talents.

3) Kudos to the young man in the Germantown student wearing the sweater with built-in Christmas lights. Awesome look. Yesterday when I went to Germantown High School’s website to find the address of the school, I happened to notice that the school was having some sort of holiday spirit week and that yesterday was ugly sweater day. Glad to see that this carried over to the game a bit, as terrible holiday sweaters are generally fun (the trend of ugly Christmas sweaters will likely be a tired one in the near future, but we’re not there yet).

4) I was not expecting to be nearly as impressed as I was by Whitefish Bay big man Jamie Schneck. During warm-ups, he looked like a skinny, fairly nondescript player, save for his 6'7" height. Then the game started. Early on, Schneck found himself leading a fastbreak, and showing off far better ball handling skills than a 6'7" center for Whitefish Bay should have. Throughout the game, he showed far more confidence, aggressiveness and court instincts than I would expect out of a player just starting his junior year. I’d not heard of Schneck before last night’s game, but his is a name that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. I can’t wait to see what he does over the next two years.

5) One confusing aspect of the evening was that it was parents’ night at Germantown last evening. So, we got to sit through the ritual of players and dance team members being introduced and handing a flower to their parents. While I certainly have no problem with an evening to honor parents, it has generally been my experience that parents’ night comes later during the season, and not during the first few weeks of the season. I guess if we want to get mom and dad out of the way, last night wasn’t a bad way to do it. But it felt weird to see such a display when it wasn’t part of winding the season down.

6) The score doesn’t indicate it, due to a mini-run of sorts by Germantown during the closing minutes of the contest, but Whitefish Bay controlled this game from the opening tip and had a large cushion for most of the game. I would love to see a shot chart of this game, because Whitefish Bay scored the vast majority of points on shots no more than 3 feet away from the hoop. (Actually, I’m not sure I’d want to see a shot chart, as I’d just end up feeling sorry for the guy taking the chart, who had nowhere else to draw circles after awhile.) What made the rout by the Blue Dukes particularly impressive is that Germantown is far from a bad team. Bay just played a great game last night, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the next time these two teams meet the game goes down to the wire.

And with another one in the books, I headed back out into the ridiculously cold weather and headed home as quickly as I could. After all, I had to see if more Jeronne Maymon news had broken...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jeronne Maymon: The Most Confusing Departure Ever

It was 9pm last night when my friend Gus called and asked if I’d seen the news. Knowing Gus, I knew that it could be just about anything basketball-related, or something about one of the characters in our hometown. But even though it turned out to be basketball-related news, I absolutely did not expect him to tell me that Jeronne Maymon had quit the Marquette team. That totally floored me, and after spending the night thinking about it, I’m still perplexed at this turn of events. The timing just seems so confusing.

Maymon, of course, was something of a gamble to bring to Marquette. Though he was the state player of the year, there were plenty of questions surrounding his academics, and his outspoken father made lots of people cringe when he opened his mouth. Similar to another departed Marquette player from a few years back, Trever Mbakwe, there were enough red flags that you knew there was some risk in bringing Maymon aboard. But I thought it was a good gamble for Marquette. Grabbing a state player of the year from the same city of one of your biggest rivals is always a good move, and despite some of the questions about Maymon, he always seemed to be an excellent teammate. The positives were plentiful enough and the upside was big enough that it made sense to give Maymon a scholarship. But it seems that things didn’t work out.

Obviously, with so little information about what went down, speculation about the reasons behind Maymon’s departure abound. I’ve yet to come up with a reason that makes sense to me. Grades are an obvious first place to look, given Maymon’s reported past troubles. But the timing of his departure, prior to the end of the semester, means that he’d be leaving before any grades were even in. There’s little logic to a move like that.

I’ve seen some talk that Maymon could potentially be upset with his role as a supporting player, or that he doesn’t like the fact that he’s had to play a post position could be reason for conflict with Buzz Williams. But that doesn’t make sense to me either. In high school, Maymon seemed to be an almost frighteningly ego-less player to me. Two years ago, he dominated the state high school tournament like few others have ever done. Last year, teammate Vander Blue took over the breakout star at state, as Maymon seemed content to support his teammate and fill up the stat sheet in ways that didn’t involve being in the spotlight, so long as it meant his team would win. I don’t know of too many 18-year-old kids who reach a peak like that, and then step aside to let a teammate blossom, all in the spirit of success. To complain now would seem out of character, given Maymon’s past history as a seemingly outstanding teammate. And any rational person could see that his confinement to post-play this year is due to a freakish rash of frontcourt injuries, as well as the Brett Roseboro pre-season departure. I don’t claim to be an expert on Maymon’s demeanor, but leaving so quickly because of a dispute over how and how much he’s being used doesn’t add up to me.

Finally, I’d initially thought that his opinionated father was somehow involved in this, but early reports are that as of this morning he’s claiming to have known nothing about what went down. I’m not sure if I totally believe that, but for now, I’ll take the man at his word. Perhaps the only other thing that I can think of is that Maymon is involved in some sort of legal or other type of trouble, as Marquette has traditionally been good at protecting player privacy in those sorts of situations. But that’s a completely wild theory, and one that I can’t say that I actually believe.

So why Jeronne Maymon is no longer a member of the Marquette team is a question that I can’t answer. But there are other questions raised by his departure. Namely, the following two:

1) What happens to Vander Blue? Maymon’s relationship with Vander Blue seemed to be an important part of Blue’s decision to attend Marquette. With Maymon out of the picture, does that change things? If Blue’s smart, it shouldn’t. To start with, the letter of intent that he signed with Marquette would provide an extra hurdle to him should he decide to go elsewhere. Even if he could get Marquette to release him, his options would likely be limited. Aside from that, Blue has already publicly changed his mind once. To do so again would be bordering on ridiculous, particularly when he’s walking into a fairly good situation at Marquette. Marquette has a whole lot more to offer to Vander Blue than a chance to hang out with one of his friends. Given the early comments from his mother, I'm expecting that she'll read this situation well and will guide him in the right direction. It’s not even worth discussing Blue going elsewhere at this point, because I don’t see it happening. (I’ll only add that as great as it would be to see a player of Blue’s caliber in Badger red, after all that’s happened in his recruitment, it would probably be wise for him to leave the state and clean his slate, should he be inclined to depart Marquette.)

2) What will happen to Marquette this year? Well, practices just got a bit tougher, given that there are only 10 healthy players on the roster. Hopefully some of the assistant coaches are in shape so that they can practice if someone goes down or needs a breather (a la Rob Jeter and Tony Bennett for the 2001-02 Wisconsin team, the last season that I’ve seen a roster meltdown of this magnitude). In terms of actual games, I actually think Marquette will be more okay than we think right now. No, Youssoupha Mbao isn’t ready to play, and Rob Frozena will never rise above his walk-on status. But in the limited minutes that he’s played, I think Erik Williams has looked promising. Buzz Williams might disagree with me, though, given that I’ve never seen a coach berate a player like Buzz laid into Eric Williams during a timeout in the midst of garbage time in an early non-conference game. But Buzz Williams doesn’t have many other choices of players to go to now, and I think that the younger Williams will be up to the task. The already depleted Golden Eagles have looked somewhat better than expected so far, and let’s not forget–that 2001-02 Wisconsin team that I referenced earlier may have had a similarly cursed roster, but they also won the Big Ten championship that same year. I’m not saying that Marquette will rise to those heights, but let’s not start eulogizing this season just yet.

Here’s looking to whatever news comes out in the coming days. It’s sure to be interesting, particularly if the rumored press conference involving Maymon’s father actually occurs.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I Don't Want To Talk About It

Yep, last night Wisconsin lost to a UW-Green Bay team that I predicted that they would "pummel." Apparently UW-Green Bay played a great game, but still, Wisconsin shouldn't find themselves on the losing end of a game with the Phoenix. No matter how much snow is on the ground, or how well Rahmon Fletcher plays.

I'd rather not think about last night's game today, and I'm betting that you'd rather not, too. So instead of dwelling on the loss, enjoy this link to UWM's 300+ pound star forward James Eayrs joyfully describing his perfect team. And by "team," he means a burrito at Chipotle. If that doesn't take your mind off of things and bring a smile to your face, nothing will.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Braving the Weather For Some Hoops

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself last night, given an array of game choices, and the obstacles posed by the major snow storm entering the Milwaukee area last evening. The obvious choice was to head down to the Bradley Center for the Marquette-UWM game, a contest that I look forward to each season. However, with the fear that downtown could be a mess with the oncoming onslaught of snow, the prospect of a nearby high school game was also an intriguing, and less treacherous option. I also gave some thought to just staying home and staying out of the weather mess altogether. After all, better safe than sorry, right?

Ultimately, I opted for my second choice, and headed out to my first high school game of the year at Marquette High. The Hilltoppers hosted Menomonee Falls in a showdown of two of the favorites in the wide-open Greater Metro Conference race. My rationale behind the choice was multi-faceted. First, a trip to Marquette High would be shorter and easier for me than heading downtown, where the combination of snow and parking ramps was sure to cause minor gridlock. Second, I had to test out the weather early on last night, as my beloved 1999 Mystique that took me to so many games died this summer, and I wanted to see how my new vehicle handled in the snow before things got too bad. Third, with the Marquette-UWM game on TV, I could take in the high school game early, and be home in plenty of time for the local college game as a nightcap on the DVR. Finally, the combination of weather scaring off fans, a general lack of awareness by fans of early season games, and a huge Marquette gym led me to conclude that this might be one of the few opportunities to see rising Menomonee Falls star J.P. Tokoto this year without finding myself crammed in a crowded gym next to random parents berating referees. What can I say–I like my space.

For the most part, I think I made the right call. The game was easy in and easy out (well, as easy as it could be, given that it occurred during the start of the first snowstorm of the year) and it provided me an early look at two teams of interest. The post-game look at Marquette-UWM didn’t quite work out, as my Directv feed went out due to heavy snow on my dish. I’m mildly bitter about that, but will concede that I’d be much more upset had I not seen an entertaining game earlier in the evening.

The evening’s thoughts below:

1) J.P. Tokoto may be the most widely talked about player in the state, but because his name isn’t pronounced in the way that you would intuitively say it when reading it, announcers sometimes don’t get it right (for the record, based on what announcers have been saying, I’m led to believe that it’s pronounced toke-a-toe). Tonight’s public address announcer slipped up during player introductions and audibly apologized. It sort of reminds me of when I went to games as a kid and even the home announcer couldn’t figure out how the heck to pronounce Gary Grzesk’s name during his sophomore year in high school. It’s sort of amusing to get to see a player that everyone knows is great, but who’s so new that few know the most basic facts about him yet.

2) I was sort of surprised to see Marquette go nearly the entire first quarter without subbing a single player in. I found this unusual for two reasons. First, one of the things that I always notice about Marquette is that their coach tends to go deep into the team’s bench and sub freely, something that’s kind of nice to see with a high school team (particularly one that’s typically competitive, like Marquette). Second, even teams that don’t sub much tend to slip players in and out of the game more freely early in the season as they try to find a team identity. Marquette went 9 or 10 deep by the end of the night, but it wasn’t as busy a night at the scorer’s table as I’ve seen in nights past.

3) It’s going to be a busy night in the laundry room for the Marquette team today, as both Quinten Calloway and John Korpiva had to change jerseys at separate points during the game, presumably because of blood ending up on their originals. Calloway’s jersey change took far too long, as a Marquette assistant coach went to the locker room to grab the spare, and for reasons that I still don’t understand, the referees did not re-start play promptly after removing Calloway from the game to deal with the issue. It seemed inappropriate to stop play for the extended amount of time that they did, and there seemed to be no point to the long break when ultimately, Calloway was not allowed to immediately re-enter the game after finally changing jerseys. The end result was neither coach looking happy with the situation, and attendees like myself grew frustrated sitting around with no action going on. Thankfully, Korpiva’s jersey swap later in the game was no distraction at all, as I didn’t even notice that it had happened until after the fact.

4) Marquette will miss the inside presence of Garrett Maloney, who graduated last year, but John Korpiva looks up to the task of filling in down low. Korpiva isn’t quite as crafty as Maloney was (who is?), but he’s a better athlete (as evidenced by a near-block on Tokoto’s first dunk attempt) and should be a very solid player by the time he’s done (he’s just a junior, folks).

5) While the end score will indicate that this one was a rout, that’s not exactly how things went down. At the end of the first half, I believe the game was either tied or within one point. Falls really pulled away in the third quarter, though, going on a nice run as they turned up some full court pressure on Marquette. Interestingly, I’m not sure that J.P. Tokoto, their star player, even scored a point in the major run of the game (he very well may have, but he clearly wasn’t the focal point). While Tokoto is clearly the most talented guy on the floor, the guards at Falls are no slouches either, and this was their game last night. I recalled liking John Cording last year, but backcourt mate Connor Cassidy was outstanding last evening, and the smallest guy on the bench, Jalen Ramey, gave the Indians some excellent minutes last night. Against a Marquette backcourt that included Quinton Calloway, one of my favorite surprises of last season, it was a very nice performance. For all the talk that Tokoto gets, he’s clearly got some support from good players who have varsity experience.

6) Okay, enough about the Falls guards–how did J.P. Tokoto play last night? (Yeah, I know that’s what most of you really want to read about.) The box score says he had 19 points, and I’d guess he fell just short of 10 rebounds. His gifts are still obvious. He can jump higher and more quickly than anyone else on the floor (yes, he had a handful of dunks), he’s got a solid mid-range shot, and he has a sweet touch around the rim. Last night he settled for a few outside shots without even looking to attack in other ways, simply because he could shoot over the top of his defenders so easily. There were also quite a few instances of him trying to dribble upcourt with 2-3 defenders surrounding him, a recipe for disaster for even the best ball handlers. With all the hype, you sometimes forget that Tokoto is just starting his sophomore season, and is going to have a bad habit or two simply because he’s so young. But I expect that he’ll get those minor issues worked out in no time, as he is definitely not overhyped.

7) It was sort of a downer of a game from an atmosphere standpoint. The snowstorm kept the crowd somewhat sparse, and it being the first home game of the year for Marquette, there were no halftime contests or other non-game related attempts at entertainment. The only semi-entertaining crowd activity was a Falls student repeatedly attempting to taunt one of Marquette’s star football players who was sitting across the gym in the crowd. And that was only amusing because it was such a poor attempt at taunting. (FYI, potential taunters, every student at Marquette High has had someone point out to them that there are no girls at their school. They’re aware of it. It’s a fact that’s irrelevant to any sports situation, and is completely unoriginal. And I say this as someone who was usually looking to run down Marquette during my student days.)

8) Last evening contained two of the most confusing jump ball calls that I’ve ever seen. I’m pretty sure that a player from Falls got a shot off while a jump ball was called at one point last night.

9) I’m hoping that both teams spend a decent portion of this next week working on their foul shooting. I can’t recall ever seeing a game that contained so many instances of a player heading to the line and missing two straight shots. There were some absolute bricks (not to mention an airball) thrown up, too. It’s early, so there’s time to right the ship, but neither team should be proud of how they looked from the line last night.

10) I get the sense that Menomonee Falls guard Kevin Scroggins is very well-liked by his teammates, due to the audible disappointment displayed by the bench when Scroggins missed the first of his foul shots after being inserted to close out the game with around two minutes to go.

And as the public address announcer sent the crowd off with the words “May all your snowblowers start on the first pull,” (a legitimately nice line, I must say) I headed out into the winter air to brush off my car and head home. My new ride got me home safely, and I had seen a good game. Not a bad night, even though the DVR failed to record the big game of the evening. Perhaps I can catch the replay of it tonight if I get done shoveling in time...

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

State Matchups Week!

It’s a big week in Wisconsin hoops, with Marquette taking on UWM, UW-Green Bay hosting Wisconsin, and in the finale, Wisconsin and Marquette getting together on Saturday for their annual rivalry game. While it doesn’t always happen this way, it’s extra fun when so many intra-state games fall during the same week. With a chance to focus solely on games played by teams from inside the state’s borders, you’d expect me to have some thoughts on the games. And you’d be right. Here’s a couple of random things running through my mind as we head towards tonight’s Marquette-UWM game kicking off a week of homegrown basketball in Wiscosnin:

1) I doubt there could be any better way to kick off a week of state teams playing each other than yesterday’s announcement that Marquette has put UW-Green Bay on the schedule for the next three years, and is likely to do the same with UWM. Marquette has gone overly generous on the deal, offering to play Green Bay twice at home and once at the Resch Center. And from the Todd Rosiak report linked above, it sounds likely that UWM will get a similar deal. It’s surprising that Marquette would demand only two games in return for heading to our state’s mid-major homes, but it’s a nice PR move for the Golden Eagles program. After taking lots of flack (some deserved and some not) in recent years for not having the “other” state schools on the schedule, now they’re killing UWGB and UWM with kindness. I know that basketball fans like myself are pleased. Sometimes a deal that’s not so great on its face can be worth all the trouble once you factor in the gain in goodwill.

2) It officially boggles my mind that the Wisconsin-UW-Green Bay game isn’t going to be televised throughout the state. I will admit that I don’t know enough about television rights to know exactly who’s dropping the ball here, but as it is a home game for UW-Green Bay, the blame would seem to fall in the lap of UW-Green Bay or its conference. My question–why wouldn’t UW-Green Bay desperately want this game on statewide television? A game against the state’s most popular program would allow them to show off their team to fans (not to mention, recruits) in every corner of the state. Currently, UW-Green Bay has very little media presence throughout the state. I know very little about the Phoenix, and that has generally been the case since I started this blog. Having seen many of their players in high school, I’d love to know more about the Phoenix, but as a Milwaukeean it takes more work than I’m willing to put in to see their games. If Green Bay made it easy to see a handful of games on TV in other parts of the state each year (this week’s contest against Wisconsin being a glaring example of such an opportunity), I suspect that they could increase their fan base. As things stand, most people in my part of the state seem to think that the Green Bay program shut down when Dick Bennett left.

3) UWM fans will probably be expecting a big night tonight from James Eayres, the Panther big man who looks like an adult version of Rudy’s friend Peter from the Cosby Show (thanks to my pal T.J. for noticing that last year). After all, Marquette lacks size, and should logically struggle against a good big man. Trouble is, Eayres is only listed a 6'7", making him big by mid-major standards, but not by general college basketball standards. Marquette can handle defending a 6'7" guy, particularly when he doesn’t have a lot of reinforcements behind him. Tony Meier and Anthony Hill are solid enough players, but they’re not going to take the pressure off of Eayres. So, I’m expecting Eayres brief slump to continue for one more game before he resumes being the most entertaining and surprisingly good player in the state.

4) Official Game Prediction #1: Marquette will beat UWM in a rout. Aside from my belief that Marquette will have a plan to defend James Eayres, UWM’s top scorer, the Golden Eagles just have more talent. I actually think that UWM will eventually go on to a solid season, but they need a bit more time to put the pieces together (particularly since it’s looking less and less likely that star guard Tone Boyle’s back will heal enough for him to be able to play this season). Put them up right now against a Marquette team that takes pride in not losing to the city’s other team, and which will undoubtedly be angry after blowing a second-half lead against N.C. State this weekend, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. I hope I’m wrong and that the Panthers will keep this one close, but I don’t think that I am.

5) In an offshoot about my comment about Marquette’s talent, I’m going on record with something that I meant to say before the season even started: If Luke Harangody falters at all, Lazar Hayward will bring home Big East Player of the Year honors this year. I thought Hayward was the best player on the Golden Eagles last year, and this year he doesn’t have to share the ball with three seniors who’d been starting for four years. You do the math on that one.

6) In the cruel twist of the week, snow is likely to wreak havoc on this week’s games. Should the snow fall throughout the next day or two as forecasters are predicting, people will definitely think twice about heading downtown tonight for the Marquette-UWM game. And if things get really out of hand, it will be interesting to see if Wisconsin can even make it to Green Bay to play on Wednesday night. I generally expect that weather problems are oversold this time of year, but if the snowstorms of the last two years have taught me anything, it’s to not be surprised at the logistical problems that the weather can cause.

7) Official Game Prediction #2: Wisconsin will pummel UW-Green Bay. Like I said, I don’t know much about Green Bay. However, I do know this–they don’t have a lot of great big guys. Despite the inside game being one of the biggest question marks for Wisconsin heading into the season, the frontcourt has turned into one of the Badgers’ biggest strengths. If people could see this game, they’d end up talking about Jon Leuer’s stellar game. As things stand, we’ll probably just find ourselves talking about what a great stat line Leuer has on Wednesday night.

8) Official Game Prediction #3: Wisconsin will come out on top against Marquette, but the game will be in doubt until the final two minutes. My opinion that Marquette will give Wisconsin fits is not one that’s share by many of my friends. Most people that I’ve talked to are aware of two key facts heading into this game. One, Wisconsin just beat Duke, which was the #5 team in the country at the time, in impressive fashion. Two, Marquette played one of the most painful second halves of basketball in recent memory en route to a loss to a mediocre-looking N.C. State team. But those games mean nothing in this meeting.

I see two reasons why Marquette will be in this game until the end. The first is matchups. Marquette is used to being at a disadvantage inside (as they definitely will be on Saturday), and counters with a rotation made up almost exclusively of sppedy sub 6'5" players. Wisconsin’s rotation skews big, which helped them against a big Duke team, but will potentially leave them vulnerable to Marquette’s quick guards. The second issue is Marquette’s emotional style of play. One of the traits of old Tom Crean teams that hasn’t gone away at Marquette (and has perhaps become even more pronounced) is the ability to feed off of emotion. More than ever this year, Marquette is a team that puts forth a furious effort every time it takes the floor. When you add in the excitement of a rivalry game, that effort will get stepped up to an entirely new level. That’s a stark contrast to Wisconsin’s consistent, methodical and relentless demeanor. In general, I’d rather have my team play like an even-keeled Wisconsin team, cutting its opponent apart with the patient determination of a horror movie zombie looking to eat a human brain. However, that’s not to say that the team that goes through highs and lows isn’t going to get hot and occasionally bump off the consistent team during a hot streak. And while I don’t think that Marquette will get hot enough to take down Wisconsin, I do think they’ll come close.

Enjoy the statewide games over the next week, and try to stay out of the cold. Here’s hoping that I don’t wuss out and stay home to shovel tonight when there’s good basketball to be seen...

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Wisconsin vs. Duke: Better Than Expected

Despite my love of Wisconsin basketball and my closet Duke fandom, I wasn’t going to go to last night’s Wisconsin-Duke game. I thought it would be too expensive, that the game would be too late, and that things would look just fine on an HDTV screen at home, or perhaps at a bar with friends. And while I expected the game to be close, I can't say that I necessarily expected a Wisconsin win. But it’s a rare day when someone contacts me to go to a game and I don’t rethink the idea of watching it at home. So, when my friend Nikki, a Wisconsin basketball fan of the highest order, indicated that seeing a Coach K-coached team in person was on her to-do list of things in life, it didn’t exactly take much arm-twisting to get me to join her. Turns out, it was a very good thing that I went to this one, as I’d have been kicking myself for years if I hadn’t. Wisconsin played its best game of the year so far, beat the #5 team in the country, essentially clinched the first ever Big Ten win in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and became the first team to defeat Duke in the history of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. And to think–just an hour before the game I was wondering if killing time having a pre-game gyro at the Parthenon, one of my favorite State Street stops during my student days, would be the highlight of my evening. Safe to say, it was not. I’m not sure that the adrenaline from this one will wear off for another week or so. Full thoughts below:

1) I’ve been lucky enough to see a few games at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and that place is truly intimidating to an opponent. What I didn’t realize, having never seen Duke on the road before, is how intimidating a visitor Duke is. Looking down at the bench, you see a row of coaches decked out in dark suits flanked by players wearing all-black warm-ups. It’s incredibly bad-ass, and immediately sends the message that Duke knows exactly who they are, and what they’re there to take care of. It didn't negate what was, indeed, a hostile atmosphere at the Kohl Center, but it did throw some of the hostility right back at Wisconsin.

2) I didn’t expect to see Mason Plumlee back for Duke last night after he spent the early part of the season recovering from a wrist injury, but he made his return in limited minutes last night. When I saw Duke’s season-opening event, it was evident that Mason Plumlee was slightly more athletic and older brother Miles (a superb athlete in his own right), and showed amazing confidence, as well. I don’t know if Mason Plumlee would have been a difference maker if he was fully back to form last night (I actually suspect he might have been), but I’m certainly glad that Wisconsin caught Duke while he was a bit rusty. (Quick editors note--I tried repeatedly to get my Plumlees straight here, and still got their names mixed up upon my first posting of this. I'm screwed if their brother heads to Duke, too. Thanks for setting me straight, T.J.)

3) I would have been worth the price of admission just to see the stars of the game, Trevon Hughes from the home team, and Kyle Singler for Duke. Singler was amazing, particularly in the first half, scoring repeatedly on runners while he had a hand in his face. It seemed early on that he was incapable of missing, no matter how goofy a shot he took. As for Hughes, he continued his brilliance at getting into the lane and making things happen, but managed to buttress that with an uncanny ability to make absurd three-pointers last night. Both Singler and Hughes made a number of shots that had no business going in last night. I’m just glad that Hughes managed to make more. And he picked a good spot, as I suspect that ESPN talking heads will be throwing out his name quite a bit in the coming week after taking in this game.

4) Very rough game for Duke’s Brian Zoubek last night. Three years ago, while trying to describe J.P. Gavinski to someone, I referred to him as a poor man’s Brian Zoubek. At the time, I sincerely thought I was being complimentary to both. Today, it simply looks like a comment that I threw out to get cheap laughs.

5) During games of this magnitude, I often receive a lot of texts from random friends (side note–in game texting is one of two acceptable uses for text messages, and if you’re going to text me, please use proper grammar). Best text of last night’s game came from a number that wasn’t in my phone (I later deduced that it was likely my friend Rick, whose number, assuming it’s right, I have finally saved). It read simply “When will the whiteout be in this game?” It never happened, but you’re never going to get closer than in a Wisconsin-Duke game.

6) Last night I ran into my good friends Josh and Chris, the biggest Wisconsin fans that I know, and they were with the one person that I was actually jealous of last night–their son Gabriel. Gabriel, at roughly three weeks old, was at his first Badger basketball game. Chris explained that she knew she needed to be at last night’s game, and that there wasn’t really a good way for her to be away from Gabriel for an extended period of time, given his extremely young age. So he came along to the game. Sure, being only a few weeks old, he undoubtedly saw none of the game, and was only vaguely aware that loud noises were going on around him, but the story of his first game will be a good one someday.

7) The one thing that I was most looking forward to last evening was watching Keaton Nankivil and Jon Leuer go up against Duke’s forwards. The frontcourt of Kyle Singler, the Plumlee brothers, Lance Thomas, and to a lesser extent, Brian Zoubek is intimidating. But the way that Nankivil and Leuer had been playing of late, combined with their general athletic ability, had me thinking that Wisconsin stood as good a chance as anyone of keeping up with Duke’s forwards. Both continued their strong start to the season, with Nankivil hauling in a handful of tough rebounds, and Leuer showing that while his athleticism is perhaps a notch below that of Miles Plumlee, he’s currently the more polished player. With Kyle Singler’s versatility and two bigger teammates taking pressure off of him, no one truly matches up well with Duke’s frontcourt, but Leuer, Nankivil and Ryan Evans did quite the job of keeping up with the Blue Devils last evening.

8) I loved some of the new scoreboard bits featuring players pumping up the crowd last night. Marquette has been doing this for years, and I’ve always thought it was a fun thing. I particularly enjoyed last night’s clip of Wquinton Smith and Brett Valentyn leading the crowd in starting a slow clap. Who better to call upon when you need some good clapping than the walk-ons, who undoubtedly know more about clapping than anyone.

9) As my friend Nikki pointed out, Jared Berggren may have only gotten around 5 minutes of playing time, but somewhere his parents were going nuts when he tossed down a dunk off of a Trevon Hughes assist during his few minutes on the floor.

10) As if the game wasn’t enough, last night’s halftime show was the always-amazing Red Panda Acrobat, which consists of a woman on a roughly 7-foot tall unicycle flipping bowls onto her head. I’d be impressed by anyone who could ride a 7-foot tall unicycle, but when you add bowl-flipping into the equation, you’ve got pure gold. There aren’t a lot of halftime shows that would make me suggest you wait to take your bathroom break until after the intermission. You’ve got the F-M Acro Team (North Dakota’s Goodwill Ambassadors!), the Jesse White Tumbling Team, the Zooperstars, and arguably Quick Change. But Red Panda has to be on that list as well. It’s just classic halftime fare.

11) I will admit to being somewhat frightened seeing Ryan Evans on the floor during the late minutes of last night’s game. At the very end, it all made sense when Bo Ryan started swapping Tim Jarmusz on offense with Evans on defense. Kyle Singler was much less likely to fake Evans out of his shoes, and Jarmusz, as a classic solid but unspectacular guy was going to be strong with the ball. But prior to that, I was a bit apprehensive to see a talented, but fearless freshmen who wasn’t necessarily used to big games yet on the floor while Keaton Nankivil and Jarmusz sat on the bench. Evans, of course, worked out magnificently, which is why Bo Ryan is coaching Wisconsin and I’m sitting here writing about the halftime show the next day.

12) Always good to see students rushing the court. There will undoubtedly be a lot of pointless internet arguments today about when, if ever, it’s appropriate for students to rush the court. I’ve never been much for judging when and how students should have fun. That said, I can’t think of too many situations that set up better for a rushing of the court than last night’s game. Wisconsin is unranked, Duke is #5 in the country, Duke is, well, Duke, and Wisconsin all but clinched the first ever Big Ten victory in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Aside from making the wishes of a dying child in a hospital bed come true, this one had everything you’d want to validate the court rushing.

13) Where does this rank in terms of Wisconsin games that I’ve seen in person? I’m putting it third. First is the obvious game that I heard numerous people reference last night–the win over Illinois to win the conference championship a few years ago, when Devin Harris won the game on the foul line and I was nearly crushed in a mid-court mini crowd avalanche as the student section ran onto the court. Second is a less obvious win against in the 1996-97 season, my freshman year in college, where in the final seconds Ty Calderwood and Mike Koselcharoen stole a game that Iowa had basically won. The old Fieldhouse was rocking so hard that night that I was actually mildly worried that the floor beneath my second deck seats was going to collapse (being 18, I continued to jump up and down, anyway). And then there was last night, which was awesome, and did not even feature the element of possible physical harm to me that was present in the previous two. (FYI–last night just edges out Wisconsin’s 1997 win over #1-ranked Minnesota to all but seal a trip to the NCAA tournament, another underrated favorite game of mine.)

Awesome night, awesome win, and awesome drive home in the first snow flurries of the year. I think Duke will improve as the year goes on, particularly with the addition of Miles Plumlee, and this win will look even better in hindsight as time goes on. Although, I must admit, it seems tough to imagine things feeling any better than they do right now. Isn’t it great to have two surprisingly good teams in the state of Wisconsin?

Update Coming...

Yes, I was at the Duke game, and yes, it was a pretty phenomenal night. And yes, my adrenaline allowed me to jot down my thoughts at midnight last night. Of course, I didn't think to forward said write-up to myself for my usual morning review during my daily glass of water (I'm not a coffee guy) to start the day. Because I'm a complete idiot, look for my thoughts around 1pm, once I get a chance to head home for lunch and check everything out on the home computer.

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