Tuesday, November 30, 2010

ACC-Big Ten Challenge Predictions (Based On Virtually No Legiitmate Facts)

I had the chance to watch the phenomenal Minnesota-Virginia game last night and was very pleased to have taken the time to watch the game. My lasting impression from the evening is that the Gophers can still play with pretty much anyone, and that the Cavaliers will steal a game or two that they shouldn’t win this year. So essentially, I’m not backing off of my pre-game analysis from yesterday (aside from the outcome)–Minnesota is very good now, and Virginia is on the verge of being pretty good.

In lieu of writing up factoids from last night’s game (and it kills me to throw away my meticulously compiled game notes), I need to make my Big Ten-ACC Challenge predictions today. As typically is the case, it’s early enough in the season that I’ve seen almost none of the teams. Thus, I’m reverting to my usual way of predicting things based on arbitrary characteristics. Because I’ve been to many of the Big Ten and ACC campuses (visiting college campuses is something of a hobby of mine), I’m choosing my winners this year based on which school I believes has the better campus. As you’ll see in my re-pick of the Virginia-Minnesota game, had I used this method yesterday, I would have gotten the game correct. In any event, here are my picks, with the winners in bold:

Virginia vs. Minnesota: This one’s sort of a tough call. I can’t say that I’ve spent tons of time on the Minnesota campus, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen of it, and I love the Twin Cities. Williams Arena is also one of the greatest spots I’ve ever watched a basketball game. As for Virginia, while I foresee a visit to Charlottesville in the near future, I’ve not been to the UVA campus since I was 9 years old, getting dragged along with the family as my older brother checked out colleges. From what I recall, Virginia was very nice, and had my mother had her way, that’s where my brother would have gone to school. My memory of the UVA campus is obviously hazy, given that my trip there occurred when I was a child and took place 23 years ago. However, if the place was nice enough that my mother wanted to send her eldest son there, I have to give the edge to the Cavaliers.

Illinois vs. North Carolina: This one’s the easiest pick of the challenge for me. It is widely known among my friends that Illinois is my least favorite of the Big Ten campuses. It’s in a remote area, has awful night life, and I generally get a terrible vibe from the people in Champaign. In contrast, North Carolina is my favorite campus in the entire country. Full of gorgeous red brick and abutting the excitement of Franklin Street, I find it impossible not to love UNC-Chapel Hill. During my college days, I once asked a friend of mine attending Duke how he enjoyed a class that he took at Chapel Hill and he replied “Honestly, if I’d known more about Chapel Hill coming out of high school, I’d have gone there instead.” That’s a telling statement coming from a Blue Devil. I’d have cut off one of my pinkie toes to go to school at North Carolina, so Illinois is no match for the Tar Heels in this one.

Ohio State vs. Florida State: Here’s one of the two matchups where I’ve been to neither place. Frankly, both places seem like they’d be a lot of fun to visit, and both schools have rabid sports fan bases. Based on the little that I know about both places and their seeming similarities, I can’t make an informed judgement. So I’ll have to revert to relying on actual basketball attributes and pick Ohio State and their talented freshman duo of Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas. I’ve not seen Sullinger yet, but I had the opportunity to see Thomas as a high school junior (at the best event that I never took the time to write about) and I’m really looking forward to seeing both on the floor for the Buckeyes.

Michigan vs. Clemson: I haven’t been to Clemson, but suspect that I would like it there. My cousin who attended Clemson has a love of her Tigers that rivals mine for the Badgers, so that’s a good sign already. As to Michigan, I’m the rare Wisconsin grad who actually sort of enjoys Ann Arbor. Yes, Crisler Arena’s a bit of a dump, but the campus itself is not, and I found the downtown area to be a lot cooler than I was led to believe. I wanted to attend Michigan when I was coming out of high school, and while I’m happy for financial reasons that I did not get in, I’m certain that I would have had a great time there had I ever gotten off of the wait list. So Michigan narrowly gets the win.

Northwestern vs. Georgia Tech: Georgia Tech is on the list of campuses that I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting. That’s okay, though, because I’ve been to Northwestern’s campus a handful of times and it would be an understatement to say that I’m not a big fan of Evanston. Its extremely close proximity to Chicago is nice, but as to things going on in Evanston itself are severely limited. Perhaps its some bias on my part, as I was never a serious enough student to be able to live in a place with virtually no distractions, but Northwestern just isn’t my kind of place.

Iowa vs. Wake Forest: This one’s a tough call, as I’ve been to both, and really liked both. My trip to Wake Forest was brief and came prior to attending a basketball game there. It was basically a tour from a car window, but I was impressed. Due to Wake Forest’s high profile in the ACC, you sometimes forget that it’s a smaller school, and the pleasant campus reflects that fact. In contrast, Iowa is a big state school and definitely looks the part. Aside from my alma mater, UW-Madison, I’d have to say that Iowa is my favorite Big Ten campus to pay a visit to. The people are pleasant, the campus is set away from everything without being in the middle of nowhere, and in my younger days, I recall the night life being excellent. So while I like both, my love of Iowa wins out on this one (and this pick is painful, because while Iowa has a great campus, their basketball team is currently brutally bad).

Michigan State vs. Duke: Despite having very likeable key acquaintances with Michigan State ties, it’s one of the Big Ten campuses that I’ve never been to. As to Duke, between good friends that have studied and worked there, I’ve seen the campus more than any other school located outside of Wisconsin. And it should come as no surprise that it’s one of my favorites. So while I’ve never been to East Lansing, it’s hard for me to believe that it could compete with the Gothic architecture of Duke.

Purdue vs. Virginia Tech: Most people that I talk to hate Purdue’s campus. I can’t say that I hate it, but I can’t say I’m a huge fan of it, either. I’m really indifferent when it comes to Purdue–it’s kind of cool in some ways, but is never going to be a place that get me excited. In contrast, I was blown away when I visited Virginia Tech a few years back. Knowing the Hokies mostly from their football exploits, I had forgotten that Virginia Tech is actually a legitimate school. Thus, when I showed up expecting a bunch of inbred Virginia mountain people and happened upon one of the five most gorgeous campuses that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing, I was pretty much amazed. I’d go back to Blacksburg in a heartbeat and I’d be neither upset nor pleased if someone dropped me off in West Lafayette, so I’m taking the Hokies over the Boilermakers.

Wisconsin vs. N.C. State: As a man with two degrees from Wisconsin, I’m a bit biased in this one. And interestingly, though I’ve attended an N.C. State home game, I’ve never been to the campus (the RBC Center isn’t exactly part of the N.C. State campus). So I can’t really comment. Fortunately, one of my closest friends followed up his graduation from Wisconsin by attending N.C. State for grad school. And while I’ve not talked to him explicitly about which campus he prefers and don’t want to put words in his mouth, I’m fairly confident that his preference has always been Madison over Raliegh. So I’m picking the Badgers.

Indiana vs. Boston College: Despite a visit to Boston this past summer, BC was not among the schools that I had the chance the chance to visit. Boston’s fairly cool, though, so Boston College has that going in its favor. In terms of Indiana, it has been some time since I’ve been through Bloomington. I do know that it was my second choice school, after UW-Madison, for college. So something about the campus must have moved me when I visited there as a high school senior. I just wish I could recall what it was. Either way, the fact that I was moved to nearly spend four years of my life in Bloomington outweighs the fact that Boston is sort of cool, so I’m picking the Hoosiers in this one.

Maryland vs. Penn State: The second matchup where I’ve been to neither campus, which is sort of weird, since my family has a number of Maryland ties. In any event, my vision of Maryland is that of a traditional college town. Penn State has many of the same attributes, buy my understanding is that it’s out in the middle of nowhere, and that very few students actually get into Penn State as freshmen, with most transferring in at some point after attending other state schools for a year or two. Because Maryland sounds like the place that I’d be more likely to enjoy, I’m picking the Terps. But don’t hold me to this one, as my knowledge of both places is severely limited.

So, in terms of campus excellence, the ACC has the edge 6-5 over the Big Ten. Let's just hope that doesn't hold up during this week's games, as it would be nice for the Big Ten to bring home another win this year and actually make this look like some sort of challenge...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Recovering From The Long Weekend and ACC-Big Ten Challenge Prediction #1

As usual, Thanksgiving weekend delivered tons of good basketball. UWM gave Marquette all it could handle on Saturday night, Wisconsin played three games and lost in the finals of the Old Spice Classic, and the high school season kicked off with some big all-day basketball events. Unfortunately, I had other commitments this weekend and missed most of the hoops excitement (on the plus side, Wisconsin's football team was fun to watch). So I have no comprehensive update today for two reasons. One, I simply ran out of time this weekend to write about anything. Two, I question the validity of me writing about a bunch of games for which the only details I have come from a slew of text messages from friends giving me updates throughout the weekend.

I'll perhaps crank out a few thoughts from the weekend for tomorrow. In the meantime, I always like to predict the outcomes of the games in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and I tend to always miss the Monday game. But not this year. Full predictions will be out tomorrow, but here's my prediction for tonight's game:

Minnesota over Virginia: I actually want to pick Virginia here. I love head coach and former UW-Green Bay hero Tony Bennett. And I'm a big fan of the staff that he's assembled at Virginia. But if you've seen how awesome Minnesota has looked early on (and in limited amounts, I have), it's pretty much impossible to pick against them in this one. I'd put the frontcourt of Trevor Mbakwe, Ralph Sampson III, Rodney Williams and Colton Iverson up against just about anyone with the way that they've been playing of late. I'll discount the Gophers' win against North Carolina, as the Tarheels seem to be stuck in the same funk as last year, but it cannot be denied that Tubby Smith has his team playing shockingly well to start the season. It remains to be seen if this will be sustained over the course of the year, or how long Trevor Mbakwe will go before he mentally implodes and leaves the team, but for now, you'd have to give the Gophers a shot against any team in the country. And while Virginia and its roster of seven freshmen will likely be very good in a few years, it's not the Cavs' time yet.

Back tomorrow with more predictions, and a few random tidbits from my weekend exodus.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Marquette vs. Duke: When a Loss Is a Win

Well, it was a successful evening last night. While I had expected a big Duke victory over Marquette, the Golden Eagles hung tough for a five-point loss and served notice that they can compete with just about anyone in the country. I had the pleasure of enjoying the game at a local bar with some friends. Fortunately, we were able to keep the game and the game audio (though we could not hear it well) on over Monday Night Football. Never let it be said that college basketball can’t compete with the NFL. My thoughts are below. They’re a bit light on non-game thoughts, as the bar viewing experience always takes away most of the opportunity to focus on weird broadcast moments. But it was a good enough game (and my first extended look at Marquette) to garner several legitimate thoughts:

1) I think I’ve lost a step, because I was totally taken by surprise when I saw Joe Fulce in street clothes at the game. Despite doing my best to follow news online, I somehow missed the fact that Fulce will be out of action for a week or two with a knee injury. While Marquette suddenly has some degree of depth at the forward spot, I’d still like to see Fulce return quickly. He’s been off to a slow start, but with his performance in the Milwaukee Summer Pro-Am League, Fulce has become the Marquette player that I have grown to like an irrational amount. I see him offering big contributions somewhere down the line.

2) Finally, the Junior Cadougan that everyone has heard so much about showed up last night. Caduougan, free of pain from last year’s Achilles injury, showed that he can be a master distributer of the ball. He even hit a three pointer, which I wasn’t expecting (and I probably don’t expect much long range shooting out of Caduougan going forward). Given that his fellow guard mates include a freshman (Vander Blue) and an inconsistent guy (Dwight Buycks), it would be nice if this version of Cadougan stuck around for awhile.

3) My most awkward moment of the night? That would be when I looked at a couple of friends after a successful Plumlee to Plumlee alley-oop for Duke and noted “It’s tough to stop a pass like that between the brothers.” Realizing how that sounded as it came out of my mouth, I then felt the need to quickly add “No, I mean actual brothers who are related to one another.”

4) My friend Greg would like everyone to know that he hates Dwight Buycks. I’m putting the over-under on the number of times that I hear this during each game that I end up watching with him the rest of the year at 26. If you had the over last night, you won.

5) There are two ways that I could go with my thoughts on Davante Gardner today. I could express disappointment that he let his minutes per game average dip below his points per game average by putting up only nine points in 15 minutes. Or, I could express excitement that he put up nine points not against a dreadful non-conference foe, but against the top team in the country, who routines runs out a front line of a 6'8" guy and two 6'10" guys. I’d just assume focus on the latter, as I had some concern before last night that Gardner was simply a master of racking up stats during garbage time. Instead, just a guy with a feather-soft touch down low and an uncanny knack for scoring. As I speculated during the pre-season, Gardner may be just the guy that Marquette has long needed at the forward spot.

6) You can’t help but love the talent on Duke’s roster. They’ve got a legit national player-of-the-year candidate in Kyle Singler and a legit freshman-of-the-year candidate in Kyrie Irving (you know a freshman is good when Coach K says he’s going to alter things about Duke’s offense to play to his strengths). Yet last night Mason Plumlee was the star of the evening, throwing down dunks and leaping above everyone else for rebound after rebound. Oh, and Nolan Smith managed to log 18 points and 9 rebounds without me even noticing because of the impressive things that other guys did.

7) I’m sort of glad that I’m not a member of the Plumlee family. Take Miles Plumlee, for instance. Two years ago he was a freshman starter at the beginning of the year for Duke. Now he’s getting minutes off the bench while his brother shines. And his younger brother Marshall arrives on campus next year. It’s quite possible that Miles could end up as the least successful of the three brothers. And when you’re still the low-man in your family after playing four solid seasons at Duke, that’s just too high a standard to live up to. I mean, I’m arguably the lesser sibling in my family, but at least my brother slips up here and there in an attempt to make me feel better about myself.

8) It’s completely unrelated to last night’s game or even basketball in general, but as a lifelong resident of the state of Wisconsin, I feel that I must note that it is a particularly joyful experience to see an ESPN news crawl detailing the complete implosion this year of Brett Favre’s Minnesota Vikings. It’s one of the few things that can get me to look away from the game.

9) Perhaps it was just the television that I was watching, or the fact that he wasn’t wearing one of his more ridiculous shirt and tie combinations (of which there have been many) last night, but I could swear that Buzz Williams has lost some weight. Perhaps his running habit is finally paying off.

10) I ultimately give lots of credit to Marquette for not folding against Duke. For the first five minutes of the game, Duke played the best basketball that I’ve seen out of anyone so far this year. It would have been easy to wilt after seeing Mason Plumlee receive perfect lob passes down low, or Kyle Singler finishing reverse layups on the fastbreak, particularly given the intimidating aura of Duke. But the Golden Eagles, either too stubborn or too dumb to be intimidated, just kept fighting back. It’s one of the things that I love about Marquette teams under Buzz Williams–they’re always tough and tend to play as if their season is on the line in every game. You can’t help but have fun watching a game like that.

So, it was really a good night for everyone watching the Duke-Marquette game. Duke fans are happy with the win, and Marquette fans are happy to have exceeded early expectations (as I said before and still believe, I think Marquette fairs better if this game gets replayed in March). As for tonight’s action, I have to believe that Marquette will be primed to take down Gonzaga to return from their tournament with one win. Look for a big Golden Eagle victory tonight as the prelude to a war between Duke and Kansas State. I’ll be doing my best to fit both into my night.

Monday, November 22, 2010

UWM vs. Northern Iowa: Mid-Major Utopia

It was a rough hoops weekend for the big boys in Wisconsin college hoops. I haven’t yet watched the Wisconsin-UNLV game, but have read that there were many missed opportunities leading to Wisconsin’s 3-point loss to the Runnin’ Rebels. And friends that attended the Marquette-South Dakota game related that although a fan won a car on a half-court shot during a break in the action, the Golden Eagles looked fairly lifeless in their win over the Coyotes. So it is with great relief that I’m able to tell you that I picked the right game to watch this weekend, as I met up with a couple of friends to check out the UWM-Northern Iowa game downtown on Saturday night. It was my first look UWM this year, and it was a good one, as the Panthers (UWM Panthers, that is–it’s sort of tough to use that moniker in today’s entry, since Northern Iowa shares the same mascot) won a thriller. Thoughts on my first trip to the MECCA this year:

1) In addition to the UWM game on Saturday night, the Milwaukee Bucks were playing right across the street at the Bradley Center. It’s always sort of a bummer when the Bucks are downtown on the same night as the Panthers. The traffic is heavier, the parking ends up being more expensive, and you feel a little weird walking around with a UWM shirt when everyone else is wearing green and red. Yes, it may be one of the saddest franchises in the NBA, but any NBA fan base still dwarfs the fan base of a mid-major college team.

2) So much for buying a UWM media guide (which it’s entirely possible that they no longer make) at the stand that used to sell them on the way in. That stand now sells gourmet popcorn. While there are probably more people that want popcorn than media guides, this still begs the question of who would head to a UWM game and have a craving for cheddar popcorn.

3) I’m not going to lie–my interest in going to see Saturday night’s game was less about UWM and more about getting to see last year’s Missouri Valley champions in person. However, I will say that I was excited when the game started and UWM not only hung with Northern Iowa, they kept a slight lead for most of the game. To be fair, Northern Iowa lost three key players from last year’s squad (including Missouri Valley Player of the Year and former Ashwaubenon star Adam Koch) and they’re not exactly as powerful as last year, but the Panthers should still be a solid Missouri Valley team.

4) Northern Iowa’s Lucas O’Rear isn’t exactly an unknown entity, but you can’t help but be impressed by him. He doesn’t look like a guy that should be an excellent basketball player, but there he is in the starting lineup, grabbing rebounds and generally holding things together. He’s one of those guys that stands out for not standing out, and it’s always nice to have one of those helping to prop up your team.

5) While it was an interesting idea by UWM last year (or perhaps a couple years back–I really can’t remember) to eliminate the bank of seats behind one of the baskets, put in a bar and a bunch of tables to stand at and name that area the “Panther Pit,” I was reminded again on Saturday night that the Panther Pit is one of the saddest places on earth. There was some brief activity there during halftime, but otherwise it was generally a huge empty area with a lonely bartender on duty. Given that Northern Iowa is one of the three most intriguing games on the UWM schedule, I’m thinking that the only chance of excitement in the Panther Pit this year is if Marquette fans try to stage a hostile takeover when the Golden Eagles’ visit UWM next Saturday.

6) One of the intriguing things about seeing Northern Iowa was that the Panthers have two Wisconsin products on their roster in Jake Koch (brother of the aforementioned Adam) and Chip Rank, a freshman standout from Cedearburg. Koch played his high school to far away from me for me to ever see him play, but I had the chance to see Rank last year and was very impressed. I was pleased to see him have a nice game off the bench. His activeness on defense and surprising shooting range confirmed for me what I’d suspected before Rank got to Northern Iowa–he’s going to be a very good player for the Panthers for the next four years.

7) Excited as I was about seeing Chip Rank, I was less excited than the group of young men in the row ahead of me, who I can only assume were hopeful young Cedarburg hoopsters who had watched Rank play for the last few years as they dreamed of playing ball for the Bulldogs. I’m glad that those guys got to enjoy the game, even if their speculation about Rank tossing down a game-winning dunk in overtime did not materialize.

8) I’d read the pre-season hype about Anthony Hill and I’d tempered my expectations a bit, because I’ve actually seen Hill play. But it looks to me like Hill’s late-season surge last year may have been for real, and that he may have finally turned a corner and become the solid player that everyone has been waiting for. I’m not sure if something went off in Hill’s head, or if his teammates are simply looking for him more, but I don’t think that his 17-point effort is going to be uncommon this year. With his muscular frame, Hill has always looked the part. Now he’s playing the part, too.

9) I didn’t get to a lot of UWM games last year, though I know that I saw the thing that I’m about to mention during the times when I did make it to the MECCA. So I need to apologize for being late to the game with my praise for the giant inflatable panther head that the players run in and out of to get to the locker room. It is thoroughly awesome.

10) It was nice to see Tone Boyle healthy and sinking a game-winning shot with 2-seconds left. The play was a classic example of just letting the team’s best scorer get the ball and make something happen. There were a few screens that Boyle curled around, but he ultimately ended up creating his own shot with a defender in his face. The shot was clutch, and the fact that he was even able to get such a nice shot off shows exactly why Boyle is a fun guy to watch.

And with the UWM victory in the books, my friends and I headed off to catch the end of the college football Saturday with a couple of other pals. We’ll be reconvening tonight to catch the Marquette-Duke matchup in the CBE Classic. To be completely honest, I don’t have a great feeling about this one. While Marquette’s athleticism and ability to play hard at all times is inspiring, Duke’s experience is tough to overlook. I’m seeing a big double-digit loss tonight for the Golden Eagles. But if we replay this one in March, I suspect it’s a much different ballgame. In any event, I’ll be back tomorrow with thoughts on the game.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Marquette vs. UW-Green Bay: Struggling To Find a Feed...

I was excited to finally get my first look at Marquette last evening (and against an in-state foe, no less). I’ve not had a moment to get down to the Bradley Center so far this year and while I did see portions of the Golden Eagles’ game against hapless Prairie View A&M last Friday, I was out with friends at the time, which always makes it impossible to have a laser-like focus on the game. So last night I couldn’t wait to settle into my chair and closely watch Marquette and Green Bay for two hours. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

As the night broke down, I caught the first five minutes of the game at the gym before heading home to watch the rest of the game, which I had set to record from the Directv feed of MASN. When I got home, I was dismayed to find that my DVR had stopped recording after about 30 minutes. I sighed, anticipated a 20-minute gap in the game, and pressed record again as I started to watch what had actually recorded. I thought nothing of it until I came to the end of the initial 30 minutes of the recording. At that point I learned that the reason that my recording had stopped was that the broadcast had been blacked out mid-game. I’m was a bit rattled by the blackout, not because it was inappropriate (truthfully, it makes sense to me that a locally played game to which Time Warner Sports has rights would be blacked out), but because MASN and other east coast sports channels had been a reliable way to catch Marquette games last season. I guess that’s no longer the case, which complicates my analysis of television providers even further. In any event, crestfallen, I continued on with the radio broadcast of the game while I cued up a random college hoops game in the background. It was not my happiest moment.

(On a side note, I was wrong a couple days ago about me not having access to ESPN3. After testing things out, it turns out the disclaimer on the ESPN3 website about being unable to receive ESPN3 without a cable package containing ESPN was apparently incorrect. Despite me being an internet-only Time Warner subscriber, the tail end of Tuesday night’s Wisconsin game came through crystal clear for me. I suppose it’s even possible that last night’s Marquette game was on ESPN3, but I didn’t get the chance to check. Now I just need to get a computer that can output to my television. And perhaps also has a functioning “b” key.)

On to my abbreviated thoughts on Marquette’s 89-69 dismantling of the Phoenix:

1) In the pre-game, it was noted that former Marquette star and newly hired Green Bay head coach Brian Wardle is 31 years old. That’s one year younger than me, which is just another reminder that I’ve accomplished very little in my life.

2) I was not aware until the broadcast that last night’s game was part of the CBE Classic. At first, I simply thought that this was some bogus set of bad early-season non-conference games grouped together solely to give O’Reilly Auto Parts an opportunity to sponsor something. Upon further investigation, though, I found that this (and MU’s game against Bucknell) was part of the tournament that will pit the Golden Eagles against Duke next Monday. As it turns out, Duke, Marquette, Kansas State and Gonzaga all played games whose outcomes didn’t matter (a point driven home by Gonzaga losing to San Diego State on Tuesday night) before the pre-determined “Championship Round.” It seems like having two meaningless opening rounds is a pretty illegitimate way to run a “tournament,” but maybe that’s just me.

3) I can’t say with a high degree of certainty, but during the first portion of my game-watching at the gym, I’m pretty think that a particular former Marquette player was just a few machines down from me. I’m uncertain if it was truly the guy I was thinking of for three reasons. First, he’s a guy that I somewhat thought would still playing pro ball overseas. Second, he’s a guy that I would have expected to return to his home state after graduation. And third, if he was indeed a former player, I’d expect him to want to carve out some time to watch the game on his own time (then again, I really wanted to see the game and I was there too, so perhaps this third point is not such a great one). I’ll leave this vague, partly in order to leave the guy alone, and partly because I don’t want to look dumb if I’m wrong.

4) This is actually a point that I discussed with some friends while watching the Prairie View A&M game, but good heavens is Jae Crowder well-built. I don’t know how much time that guy spends in the weight room, but he resembles a long-haired Karl Malone. During the Prairie View A&M game, my friends and I had briefly forgotten that Crowder attended a junior college before Marquette. I'm glad that I've since remembered that, because it seemed simply implausible that someone could look like that as a freshman. As it turns out, it is implausible.

5) The announcing team noted that Green Bay freshman center Alec Brown is Green Bay’s first 7-foot tall player. As for the positive things about his game at this point, I’d say that he’s about 7-feet tall. Good thing he has three more years to learn.

6) Watching some of the perimeter exchanges on offense, it’s pretty clear that Green Bay coach Brian Wardle spent some time playing for Tom Crean.

7) So here’s the one thing that really disappointed me about last night’s game–because of when the black-out kicked in, I didn’t get to see Davonte Gardner. He’s a guy that I was fairly high on before the season began, he was one of the heros of the Bucknell comeback, and he didn’t play in the first 10 minutes of the game. I know I’ll eventually get to see him, as he’s currently averaging 13 points per game in only 12 minutes of playing time per game, but it would have been nice to finally get a look at him last night.

8) The broadcast teams for Marquette have been shaken up of late as radio color commentator Jim McIlvaine has been shifting over to the TV side for a few games, with fellow former-MU star Tony Smith subbing in on the radio broadcast. Having had the chance to take in portions of both the TV and radio broadcasts last night, I can say that while the shift appears temporary, I liked it. McIlvaine, being new at TV, obviously needs some practice. However, he’s a bit more subdued on TV, and you can rest easily knowing that he’s not going to make one of his cornball moves like exclaiming “No mercy in this dojo!” when something exciting happens. As for Smith, his work with various local media outlets has made him a competent, if unspectacular color commentator. I suspect that given a few more games, his rapport with play-by-play man Steve “The Homer” True would be fantastic.

I wish I had a few more salient game points, but my points above will have to do, given that the final 30 minutes of the game were not visible to me. Fortunately, next Monday it should be pretty much impossible to miss Marquette taking on Duke. After all, with the amount of influence that Duke has on ESPN, I’m half expecting the game to pre-empt Monday night football.

I’ve got my eye on a late game tonight, so back tomorrow if I can jot some thoughts down before passing out.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Quick Thoughts

Just a few quick thoughts today on the little basketball content that I took in last night:

1) I caught a good portion of the second half of the Minnesota-Siena game last night. Because I only tuned in for the second half, and not the first half where the Gophers fell way behind, it's tough for me to get a good read on the Gophers. As for my favorite moment, Gopher forward Rodney Williams became the early frontrunner for most athletic play of the year when he took an alley-oop pass which forced him to adjust mid-air from his straight-on attack and throw down a reverse dunk instead. Very nice, Mr. Williams.

2) During the broadcast of the Minnesota game last night, the announcers noted that Tubby Smith was calling forward Trevor Mbakwe the team’s “X-factor,” and saying that Mbakwe was the guy that the team’s success or failure could hinge on. If I was Tubby Smith, I would probably have an uneasy feeling about the season after making those statements.

Mbakwe is undoubtedly a great talent. He’s also a guy that makes confusingly bad decisions. Let’s review how he got to Minnesota. His high school career spanned, if I recall correctly, three schools in two states. In college, he started off injured at Marquette and instead of taking a redshirt year, returned to play a mere 11 games at the end of the season. He then left Marquette the day before classes for his sophomore year were about to begin, leaving virtually no way for the Marquette staff to fill the huge hole that he left on the roster. From there, he ended up at a junior college in Miami, a city which he had seemingly no ties with. And last year he found his way to the Golden Gophers, but was held out of play all year due to a then-unresolved sexual assault charge against him from his time in Miami. Oh yeah, and during this past offseason he talked about potentially transferring from Minnesota.

I hope for Tubby Smith’s sake that Mbakwe’s head is finally screwed on straight, but he certainly doesn’t have the track record of a guy that you want to depend on. That’s a shame, because his abilities as a player make him a guy that you’d like to lean heavily on. But don’t color me surprised if Mbakwe leaves the team midseason for mind-boggling reasons.

3) I didn't realize until it was too late last night that Dickey Simpkins was doing color commentary on the Minnesota-Siena game. A tip to everyone out there--if you ever hear that Dickey Simpkins is calling the game that you're watching, don't change the channel, but do turn the volume up and listen closely. I guarantee that it will be less than five minutes until Simpkins says something so asinine that you'll find yourself wondering how he ever got anyone to give him a microphone.

4) After all of my pre-season analysis of television packages and providers, we’re one week into the season and I now realize that I have a huge hole in my coverage: ESPN3. In previous years, ESPN3 (or ESPN 360, as it was formerly known) was a niche product, as no one wanted to watch a game on his or her computer. So I never thought twice about the service. But in the last two years, connecting a computer to one’s television has become a much more common way of watching games, and ESPN3 actually appears to have some value. In fact, I was thinking of watching tonight’s Wisconsin game on ESPN3, until I realized that I don’t have access to it. My internet provider is Time Warner, and as it turns out, Time Warner subscribers can only receive ESPN3 if they receive ESPN in their cable programming package. As I’m a Directv subscriber, I have no Time Warner Cable package and am 95% sure that I'm out of luck for tonight’s Badger game. This will be something to take into consideration as I evaluate my television needs going forward. As for tonight, it’s a good thing that Badger play-by-play man Matt Lepay is the best in the business.

5) I love the ESPN 24-hour hoops marathon, even though I’m tied up doing other things for something like 15 of those hours.

6) I caught a bit of ESPN’s pre-season basketball preview last night, and particularly enjoyed the discussion of the newly expanded 68-team tournament by ESPN’s panel of basketball experts. Of particular note, Hubert Davis put forward my constant objection to the play-in games as being an unfair way of keeping low-level conference champions out of the “real” tournament. And my idol, Jay Bilas, noted that while the reason for the expansion to 68 teams is money, money isn’t exactly a terrible reason to make a decision. I agreed with the general consensus of the group that while 68 teams was far better than an expansion to 96 teams would have been, it doesn’t have the simple fairness that the old 64 team tournament had.

Back tomorrow with thoughts on whatever I manage to watch or listen to.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Wisconsin vs. Prairie View A&M: The Season Begins

The real action finally got underway this weekend with all of the state’s division one teams playing their first regular season games of the year. I had the opportunity to get a few glimpses of Marquette’s Friday night game against Prairie View A&M on TV and to listen on the radio to most of the second half of the Golden Eagles’ come-from-behind win against Bucknell yesterday. However most of today’s thoughts will be about my trip to the first Wisconsin game of the year, as I actually attended and paid full attention to that one. Weekend thoughts below:

1) I had forgotten until I was making the drive to the Badger game on Sunday that 100.5 FM in Madison is now broadcasting Marquette games. Being able to listen to the Marquette game and post-game show made the drive to Madison much more enjoyable. I’m sort of jealous that there’s now a way to follow Marquette in Madison, as during my days there, there was so little coverage that Marquette might as well have been a school located thousands of miles away on the west coast.

2) A final note on last night’s Marquette game before I go all-Badgers for the rest of this entry: How amazing is it that Marquette’s 24-0 run to close out yesterday’s comeback win against Bucknell was largely led by three freshmen (Davonte Gardner, Vander Blue and Jae Crowder)? With Buzz Williams recruiting guys like that, the future looks very good at Marquette.

3) As I alluded to in my pre-season notes, I’m a thrifty guy when attending hoops games, so you can imagine my delight in finding free street parking on my way to last night’s game. That’s $3 sliding right back into my pocket.

4) The story of Sunday night was obviously Josh Gasser’s stellar debut as a Badger. I can’t recall a better first game by any Wisconsin player. His stats–21 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists are what leap off the page. But in watching the game, his aggressiveness was perhaps the most notable thing about him. Gasser’s hard cuts and ability to get into the lane are what led to his point and rebound totals, as well as his ability to constantly get to the free throw line. While I obviously am not expecting a performance like this from Gasser every night, it’s immediately apparent after one game that he’s not going to be tentative as a freshman.

5) Sometimes I don’t know what I’m talking about. One such instance is my proclamation during my pre-season thoughts on the Badgers that Wquinton Smith would be little more than a solid guy to throw into a game during an emergency. So of course, he opened the season as a starter, proving that Bo Ryan wasn’t just trying to mix things up by giving him an exhibition start. In my defense, Rob Wilson’s injury has impacted the number of guard minutes available. And let’s face it, it’s pretty surprising that a 5'10" walk-on (and not even a preferred walk on–Smith found his way on to the roster via an open tryout) is starting and playing significant minutes.

6) I might as well keep talking about things that I’m wrong about. Here’s one that I never even explicitly stated on the blog–prior to the huge buzz about him in the pre-season, I wasn’t expecting to see Josh Gasser giving the Badgers important minutes this year. He struck me as the kind of guy that would be very solid by the time that he was a junior, but wasn’t necessarily going to be someone to be relied on immediately. I only had the opportunity to see Gasser once during his high school career, and didn’t come away from the game particularly excited about him. (Here’s my entry from that game last year. I’ll let you in on a secret–I have a general rule against saying negative things about high school players on the blog. So it’s a pretty good bet that when I say very little about a star high school player after a game that I’m a bit underwhelmed. Note that I don’t spend a lot of time talking about Gasser in last year’s entry.) As I’ve long said, I have great respect for actual coaches, as they can see the things that I can’t. Mark this down as one instance where I’m pleased to have been completely clueless.

7) Kudos to the creative team at Wisconsin for coming up with the “Mike Bruesewitz Hair Cam” as a timeout entertainment feature. The general concept is that the scoreboard video screen shows people from around the arena and then superimposes Bruesewitz’s big red mop of hair onto their heads. And while it was pretty much a home run of a concept to begin with, the arena camera people nailed the execution of it, as well, appropriately focusing mostly on children and middle-aged bald guys. Those are clearly the most entertaining people to toss a giant red hairdo onto.

8) It’s official, Duje Dukan won’t be redshirting, as he checked into last night’s game. I doubt he’ll see much playing time this year, which is more a reflection of the Badgers’ frontcourt depth than anything about Dukan himself. I’m not too worked up about this either way. While it’s probably likely that Dukan would see more floor time as a fifth year senior than as a true freshman, it’s hard to get worked up over a guy wanting to play.

9) Prairie View A&M played Marquette on Friday night and Wisconsin on Sunday evening. (As a side note, I was impressed at their ability to lose badly to both teams in distinctively different ways.) Because of this scheduling situation, I’m assuming that the Panthers’ had some free time to play around with on Saturday. This left me wondering what a basketball team stuck in Wisconsin for a weekend does during their down time. I want to believe that after a short practice on Saturday morning, the team banded together and begged their bus driver to take them to the House on the Rock. However, I suspect that the day was probably a bit more mundane than that and involved watching college football in a hotel room.

10) It was a weak showing by the Wisconsin crowd on Sunday evening, as the attendance was about as low as I’ve ever seen it for a Badger game. The student section didn’t come close to filling its lower-level seats (in contrast to Marquette, who appeared to have solid early-season attendance for its student section on Friday night), and there were plenty of empty red seats around the rest of the arena. I assume part of the low attendance can be attributed to the bizarre 5pm Sunday evening start time, but it was still a bit jarring. When I’m sitting in the last row of the arena I expect there to be enough people making noise that I’m not able to hear the opposing team’s coach yelling instructions to his players. That wasn’t the case last night.

11) The hoops team scored 99 points last night, so can we now put a moratorium on lame jokes about the football team outscoring them on Saturday?

12) Mike Bruesewitz again looked like the best of the reserve forwards on Sunday night (followed closely by Jared Berggren, who really has developed an outside shot), even looking briefly dominant during a five minute stretch in the second half. The difference between Bruesewitz last season and this season seems less about his skill level and more about his comfort level. Last year when Bruesewitz got into a game, he did things correctly, but his movements were deliberate, precise, and you could tell he was thinking about them. This year, he just looks like he’s in the flow of things and that the basics are second nature, which makes him markedly better.

13) The only guys not to have great games? Ryan Evans and Keaton Nankivil–and even they had some very good moments on the floor (Evans’ athletic lay-in on a back door lob pass comes to mind). Evans was slowed by early foul trouble again, and I thought Nankivil had a few defensive missteps. But Evans and Nankivil’s less-than-perfect nights revealed what’s so great about Wisconsin having six capable frontcourt players this season–when one person is having an off night, it’s a pretty good bet that someone else will be able to step in pick up his teammate for that game.

14) Last night was the first game of a four-pack of tickets that I purchased with my friend Ferd. We were in the last row in a corner of the Kohl Center. And you know what? The view was actually pretty good. I’m probably a poor guy to ask, as I’m willing to sit just about anywhere at a basketball game, but I’m impressed that even the worst seats in the house at the Kohl Center are pretty good. It’s comforting to know for future game that I may scalp tickets to that no matter how much a scalper lies to me about seat location, I’m pretty much going to be okay.

15) Perhaps the most underrated aspect of the games played by Josh Gasser and Wquinton Smith last night was their ability to rebound down low. I actually watched Smith, a 5'10" walk-on guard, grab four rebounds in the paint last night. I don’t expect to ever see this again (indeed, Wisconsin out-rebounded Prairie View 45-15, which is about as lopsided as it gets), but it was nice to see guards that were able to make a strong effort down low. Not since Kirk Penney and Travon Davis have I seen Wisconsin guards so willing to commit to playing well near the blocks.

16) No minutes in a 44-point win for J.P. Gavinski, J.D. Wise or Dan Fahey. I guess they know their roles all too well.

17) The lingering question for Wisconsin? What will happen when Rob Wilson is fully recovered from his injury. Wilson is more experienced and athletic than Josh Gasser and Wquinton Smith, but has also generally been less consistent than Gasser and Smith have looked in their two exhibition games and initial regular season game (of course, that’s a pretty small sample size). I can’t say that I have any idea what the distribution of minutes at the guard spots will look like, other than that Wilson will play some sort of role and Jordan Taylor’s minutes won’t be impacted at all.

With my first real game of the year in the books, I headed back to Milwaukee with Ferd listening to foolish callers on a the radio post-game show. Now that the fun has begun, I’m excited to begin watching games in earnest. Hopefully I’ll find something to see tonight, but if not, I suppose ESPN will come to my rescue tomorrow with it’s 24-hour hoops marathon. Who’s with me for a little 3am Central Michigan vs. Hawaii action?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wisconsin vs. Minnesota State: Starting the Season Off Right

Ah, the first game of the year. Last night I had the opportunity to head to the Kohl Center for Wisconsin’s exhibition game against Minnesota State. Joining me for the evening was my good friend Samip, who I watched many a game with back in college, and who happened to be in Madison already on business. So I didn’t get the fun car ride to Madison with Samip, but we did enjoy the game, as well as a quick pre-game drink. It felt good to be back at the Kohl Center. Thoughts on night #1 of my season below:

1) It was a bizarre starting lineup for the Badgers last night. As expected, Jon Leuer, Jordan Taylor and Keaton Nankivil took up three of the starting spots, but the remaining two spots unexpectedly went to Mike Bruesewitz and walk-on guard Wquinton Smith. I try not to read too much into the minutes that get doled out in exhibition games, as Bo Ryan tends to play around with things during the preseason (indeed, he had almost every conceivable combination of players on the floor at some point last night), but one can’t help but think that it speaks volumes about what Ryan thinks about Bruesewitz and Smith that each received a start tonight.

2) Aside from his being in the starting lineup, Wquinton Smith logging major minutes was one of the surprises of the night. Some of Smith’s time undoubtedly came because Rob Wilson was sidelined for the night with a hamstring issue. However, he logged more minutes than every other guard on the team besides Jordan Taylor. Smith acquitted himself nicely, though, and one wonders if the unthinkable is possible and a walk-on may log a few minutes here and there for a very good Badger team. Based on how he was used tonight, it’s tough not to think that Smith will be in the mix along with Josh Gasser for backing up the guard spots.

3) I’m advocating that Mike Bruesewitz be given the opportunity to start every home game this season. It’s not because he played well (though he did), and it’s not because of his gigantic mop of red hair that’s sure to make him a fan favorite this year. No, it’s because he had the goofiest set of expressions ever on his face when the video of him for player introductions was shown on the Kohl Center scoreboard. I’m still trying to figure out if Bruesewitz was just messing around of if he just generally looks sort of goofy.

4) The player that I was most intrigued to see last evening was Josh Gasser, the freshman guard generally thought to be most likely to see minutes at the backup guard spots. I had seen Gasser play once in high school and was generally not blown away. That was the case last night, as Gasser saw some minutes, but did nothing overly exciting. But I suspect that this is part of why Bo Ryan likes Gasser–much like Tim Jarmusz (though I would argue that Gasser has a bit more upside than Jarmusz), Gasser isn’t going to wow you with spectacular passes or steals, but he’s going to do everything pretty much right and not screw anything up. Who knows what this year holds for Gasser, but I’m pretty sure that we’ll all love him by the time he’s a junior.

5) As I noted a couple of days ago, I’m not a guy that’s going to go out of his way to defend Tim Jarmusz. That said, Jarmusz proved his worth to me on one play tonight when he pointed at Jordan Taylor and told Jared Berggren to set a ball screen. Moments later, Berggren obeyed Jarmusz’s command and Taylor got free for a sweet jump shot.

6) Ryan Evans fouled out in 11 minutes of play. Ouch. To be fair, it was a tightly called game, but it was nonetheless a rough night for the hard-working sophomore.

7) I’ve been oddly slow to warm to Jon Leuer, but his 19 first half points in limited minutes may have finally brought me around. Leuer can score from anywhere on the floor. And while he embarrassed Minnesota-Mankato less than he did UW-LaCrosse a few nights ago (I watched a short portion of the replay of that game on my DVR, and saw Leuer toss down four dunks, all of which involved him putting an impressive move on his defender), he still generally had his way. Even more interesting, Leuer displayed a few of tricky, behind-the-head passes to teammates, who caught them every time. It’s one thing to throw a fancy pass, but it’s another thing when you can actually get your teammates to catch it. Leuer just seems to have everything going his way right now.

8) One complaint on the night–during the halftime kids’ hoop dunk contest, contestant number two, Isaac from Janesville got totally robbed when he was not chosen by the crowd as the winner. Isaac, who could have been no more than 9-10 years old, was bested by contestant number three (presumably his younger brother or friend). While I’ll give you that it was funny when the smaller contestant number three ripped down the rim with his dunk, young Isaac had actually asked contestant number three to kneel down in front of the hoop and then jumped over him for his dunk. When you’re 9 years old and using human props already, there’s really no way that you should lose.

9) I enjoyed J.P. Gavinski’s thunderous dunk during garbage time (this was perhaps the last time that I’ll ever get to see him play live). And it only felt appropriate the Gavinski threw down at the exact moment that I was commenting to Samip that it was uncanny with the physical transformations of some of Gavinski’s teammates that he himself had developed almost no muscle tone during his four previous years on campus.

10) Former LaCrosse Aquinas standout Jimmy Whitehead is on the Minnesota State roster. I was only reminded that I vaguely knew who Whitehead was after looking him up on my roster sheet to see who the guy with the most awkward looking shot ever was.

11) While the Badgers didn’t exactly look to be in early season form, the cheerleaders sort of did. There were a few mildly nervous moments endured while watching their less-than-totally-clean lifts during timeouts. One can only assume that in 4-5 games, there will be much less reason to fear one of them suffering a horrific fall.

12) He’s been relegated to the bench for a couple of years, but after seeing him play some minutes last night, I still really like Jared Berggren, and my positive impression of him is based on the same thing that drew me to him two years ago–he likes contact down low. These days it seems like most guys that are 6'10" want to show off their ability to put the ball on the floor and take long three-point shots. So it’s refreshing to see a big guy that looks at home banging with opponents on the blocks. Berggren is able to take the occasional three-point shot now, but it’s not his primary game, and he looks like he’d rather be down low. And he might be the only Badger that I can say truly loves being near the baseline.

13) Duje Dukan saw some brief action last night and when he entered the game I simply looked at my friend Samip and noted “Good God, is he skinny.” Indeed, while I had heard some noise about how skinny Dukan’s frame is, it was an entirely different thing to see in person. I’m still not quite sure if his astounding appearance is due to him actually being skinny or his teammates having added so much muscle during their years in the program. After all, I was commenting about how skinny Dukan was while he was standing next to Jon Leuer, who was the guy that everyone talked about as being insanely thin three years ago. Clearly that’s not the case now.

And with the 93-59 dismantling of the Mavericks in the books, I headed back to Milwaukee with a smile on my face and an extended post-game show on the radio. Well, not right away actually. A word to the wise–if you get a craving for Babcock Hall ice cream and want to pick up a couple pints on the way home, they no longer sell it at the Hilldale Sentry, so it’s not worth the drive out there. I went home with an empty cooler and that side-trip extended my night a bit with no tangible benefit. I guess I should have anticipated that some things would change in the seven years since I’ve lived in Madison...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Housekeeping Notes

As I noted at the end of my thoughts on Marquette, today I’m addressing a couple of housekeeping issues on the blog. I’ve made two major updates, which I’ll discuss below:


Yesterday I had the opportunity to update my links off to the right side of the page. Having gone at things remarkably half-assed over the past two seasons, I had allowed the links to fall into almost total disarray. A large number of the blogs that I had linked to were no longer operational, and a number of the pages that I had linked to had changed their locations. In fact, I’d guess that you were more likely to end up frustrated than informed if you tried to use my links. So yesterday I cleaned house, got rid of some old links, added some new ones, and reorganized the categories that I had previously carved out. A few notes on the updates:

1) A number of the blogs which I deleted from the links section had mostly been there because someone had e-mailed me a few years ago looking to exchange links. I may have read some of them once or twice and perhaps even liked them, but then rarely, if ever, returned. That’s not the case now–every link off to the right is to a blog or site that I find personally useful or compelling You have my personal endorsement on everything (as of today, at least).

2) I’d like to specifically note two blogs that I added links for yesterday which should have been added long ago. First, to all of my friends who have mentioned it over the years, yes, I’m readily aware of the amazingly witty Club Trillion blog, written by now-former Ohio State walk-on Mark Titus. I’ve sort of missed my time window for linking to the blog (though I’ve been reading it almost since its inception), as Titus has completed his time at OSU and has entered the real world. Thus, he can no longer pontificate on what it’s like to be a walk-on for a big-time college basketball team. But because he has indicated that he will keep on writing, and because his track record implies that he will continue to be amusing, I’m giving Club Trillion a link. (And as I alluded to in my Marquette thoughts, he’s also doing occasional pieces for ESPN, which is officially awesome.)

Second, I’ve probably mentioned it in passing over the years, but former Marquette great and current Marquette radio color commentator Jim McIlvaine has one of my favorite blogs around. McIlvaine is equally comfortable sharing bizarre photos from old media guides as his is giving serious insights about basketball (with an occasional diversion into amusing non-basketball territory). His blog has never been an easy find, hidden on the website of Milwaukee’s ESPN Radio affiliate, but now that you know the secret, I guarantee it’s worth your effort to give McIlvaine a read.

3) Because high school basketball is a uniquely local thing, I’ve added section for High School Media Coverage, with links to the websites of a few of the more notable newspapers in the state of Wisconsin. I’m by no means an expert on areas of the state outside of Milwaukee and Madison, though, so if there’s a Wisconsin newspaper that seems like it should be included, please shoot me an e-mail or leave me a comment below.

4) I’ve not been as frequent a reader of basketball blogs over the past few years, so if I’m missing something new and awesome off to the right, drop me a line and let me know. Similarly, if you have a blog that’s new and awesome, let me know. As you might suspect, I tend to favor things that take a light-hearted approach to basketball, but I’m not opposed to serious discussion, either.


So, I’ve signed up for this Twitter thing that everyone is talking about. Frankly, I have no idea how this will go. On one hand, I’m currently a bit intimidated, as learning how to read things on Twitter feels like learning a foreign language (and I truly hated French class in high school). I’m also skeptical of my ability to say meaningful things in 140 characters or less. However, the ability to give real time updates about mascot mishaps and obscure high school scores leaves me intrigued. You can follow me @chriswesthoops. I’ll be attempting my first tweet sometime this evening, in conjunction with my attendance of my first game of the year. I make no guarantees that I won’t completely suck at this and shut it down by the end of 2010. But seeing as it’s 2010 and not 2004 anymore, I suppose I can’t just have a plain old blog anymore...

I'll keep you advised of any future significant changes. Back tomorrow with my first set of game thoughts of the year.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Thoughts on Marquette

I’m going to approach my pre-season comments about Marquette a bit differently than I did my comments about Wisconsin. Having attended a couple of games (and I do mean “a couple,” as I was not a frequent attendee) of the Milwaukee Summer Pro-Am League that most of the team played in this past summer, I’ve got a bit more to work with, since I’ve actually seen most of these guys play since last March. So, rather than just giving a simple ranking, I’d like to reflect on some of my impressions on each player from his summer league performance, and talk about my expectations for the year. And here are those thoughts about the players, followed by a few brief thoughts on the team as a whole:

Darrius Johnson-Odom: DJO was my favorite thing about the Milwaukee Summer Pro-Am League. In the few times that I saw him play, he was on a completely different level than everyone else on the floor. I’m looking for a huge leap from Johnson-Odom this year. With Lazar Hayward gone, this team belongs to Johnson-Odom and Jimmy Butler. And I can’t think of two better guys to take the reigns.

Jimmy Butler: I was lucky enough to see Butler in one of his early appearances in the summer league prior to injury keeping him out of most of the action. Like Johnson-Odom, he was on a higher level than most of the other players there. Perhaps just as impressive, Butler remained active in the league after his injury, showing up to encourage and help out teammates (both MU and non-MU). One of the fun things about watching Marquette since Buzz Williams took over is that the guys who seem to have the most success are the guys who seem most willing to help the team. Butler’s that guy this year. Like Wesley Matthews and Lazar Hayward before him, Butler is never going to complain that he’s playing out of position. He’s just going to go out and play his butt off, regardless of where he ends up on the court or who he needs to guard. And he’s going to have a great season. (Jeronne Maymon, or perhaps more accurately, the people around Jeronne Maymon could learn a lot from watching a guy like Butler.)

Joe Fulce: I sort of knew that I was going to enjoy watching Johnson-Odom and Butler play in the summer league, but I was sort of surprised by how much I liked Joe Fulce. First off, from observing the players up close and getting to see a bit of their personalities come out on the floor, Fulce seems like the guy on the Marquette squad that I’d most like to hang out with. He approached things with an appropriate amount of seriousness, but still spent plenty of time joking around and having fun. And it would have been tough for him not to have fun, as he played extremely well in the summer league, grabbing rebound after rebound and displaying a shooting range that he wasn’t able to show off in the regular season. It was clear upon seeing Fulce close up that he’s a bit shorter than I had anticipated, which makes his solid play as an undersized power forward all the more impressive. I look for Fulce to potentially be a starter this year and to be another guy who takes a strong step forward.

Junior Caudougan: I was prepared to dislike Cadougan when I went to go watch summer league games. If you liked Cadougan last year, I don’t know what you were watching. Coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon, Cadougan made the questionable decision to take off his redshirt and play 12 games down the stretch. He looked slow and out of shape in the few games that he played in. This summer, however, he got up and down the court with ease and consistently set his teammates up with outstanding passes. Upon watching him, it was tough not to think that his play last year was merely a function of him not having the time to get back into game shape following his injury. He clearly looks the part of a point guard and it would be surprising to me if he’s not the starter this season.

Chris Otule: I didn’t really get to see Otule play in the summer league. For some reason I just never seemed to be watching his team when he happened to be playing. I’ve heard some buzz about how he looked vastly improved (his exhibition game stats would imply some improvement, as well). Unfortunately, I have to say that I don’t believe any of that buzz. In his limited action during his rare healthy moments at Marquette, I’ve generally thought that Otule has looked lost and over-matched when he’s on the court. Improvement is possible for everyone, but to date, nothing has led me to believe that Otule is the frontcourt answer that the Golden Eagles are looking for. I hope that I’m wrong in my assessment, as I’ve found Otule to be really likable when I’ve heard him interviewed. But just because someone seems like a good guy doesn’t mean that I have to like them as a player.

Dwight Buycks: Buycks wowed most people in the summer league, routinely dropping 40 points in games. I get the sense, however, that most people recognize that the wide-open style of the league played to Buycks' strengths, and that we shouldn't be expecting huge scoring outbursts during the regular season. This season I look for him to be pretty much what he was last year–a solid bench option who whose play won’t be a huge drop-off from that of the starters. And let’s be honest–that’s not at all anything to sneeze at. But anyone who’s expecting him to randomly drop 35 points on Providence will probably be disappointed.

Erik Williams: Williams looked good in the summer league, and teammate Robert Frozena relates to ESPN’s Mark Titus (yes, the Club Trillion guy is doing occasional pieces for ESPN–I can think of few more exciting developments this season) that Williams is stronger, much improved, and should be a key cog for Marquette this year. I’m not sure that the summer league gives me a good read on how much Williams has improved though. While summer league can showcase player improvements, a series of glorified pick up games are not the best devices to use in gauging a player’s mental toughness. And last season, Williams’ problems seemed much more mental than physical. If he can get over some of his mental mistakes from last year, Williams has the opportunity to play an important role in the Golden Eagles’ frontcourt.

Robert Frozena: While he’s among the favorite walk-ons of recent memory, I can’t say that I spent much time looking to see how Frozena had improved his game this summer.

The Newcomers

As with all newcomers, I've seen very little of the following players, so take whatever I say with several grains of salt.

Davante Gardner: The one newcomer that stuck out to me when I was watching summer ball, I feel like Gardner could develop into the semi-big guy that Marquette has been trying to find for the past few years.

Vander Blue: He was solid, but unspectacular at the times that I saw him play in the summer league. By the time all is said and done, I think Blue will be a superstar. But I think he’s a guy that’s going to need some time before he feels comfortable. I, for one, am willing to be patient.

Jamil Wilson: Despite being genuinely excited to see him play, I never saw Wilson on the court this summer. My timing just never worked out. Ultimately, this is of no consequence, as Wilson is sitting out this season after transferring from Oregon. I did see him in the stands quite a bit, though. On one such day, I found myself thinking about how uncool he looked standing around with headphones plugged into his iPad (while generally awesome, the iPad looks decidedly lame when used as a portable music device). Then a really attractive woman walked up to him and gave him a hug, reminding me that I don’t really have a great handle on what it takes to be cool these days.

Jae Crowder, Jamail Jones, Reggie Smith, Dave Singleton: I probably saw one or two of them play in the summer league (aside from Crowder, who was the only member of the team who was unable to participate in the league), but I’m certain that I wasn’t paying attention to them when I watched. I know that most people who stopped out to see a game or two of summer league play were just there to scout out Marquette players, but I was genuinely excited to see some big names from the past. Do you seriously want me to pay attention to some freshman guard that I’ve never heard of when Dejuante Wade (who was surprisingly phenomenal in the summer league, by the way) is running up and down the court? If the box score from the Golden Eagles’ exhibition is any sort of indication, though, this could be a very solid freshman class.

Final Thoughts

I’m very excited about this Marquette team, and suspect that it is severely underrated coming into the year. Lazar Hayward is a huge loss from last year’s team (his surprise first round selection in the NBA draft speaks to his value), but Jimmy Butler looks primed to take over his leadership role with some help from Darius Johnson-Odom. The freshman class sounds as if it is loaded with talent and should offer immediate contributions. Indeed, this is a remarkably deep and athletic roster. Only a lack of big-name players keeps Marquette from garnering more respect in the pre-season rankings.

As always seems to be the case, the glaring weakness for Marquette is a lack of size, as only Chris Otule and Davante Gardner stand 6'8" or taller. I’m actually starting to come to grips with Marquette’s lack of size, though. Buzz Williams’ recruiting seems to indicate that he’s not desperate to get big bodies to campus–he just wants guys that can play. I can live with that, as it has seemed to work well for him over the past two years. The key is finding guys like Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler who buy into the team concept and don’t mind playing out of position at times (or most of the time). When that happens, Marquette is not an undersized team at a disadvantage, it’s five athletic guys causing problems for its opposition. For most teams, I wouldn’t advise just rounding up a bunch of athletic 6'7" guys and forgetting about even trying to find a true big man. But it seems to work for Buzz Williams, so who am I to complain.

Back tomorrow with a few housekeeping notes before I head off to my first game of the season...

Friday, November 05, 2010

Thoughts On the Wisconsin Badgers: Levels of Importance

There are few things that I enjoy more than reading about Wisconsin during the preseason. As seems to be the case every year, the Badgers are picked by most people to finish about fifth in the Big Ten. And on paper, this is the projection that they deserve. Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State and Illinois are all objectively better, particularly given that Wisconsin lost both of its longtime starting guards to graduation. But here’s the fun thing about the Badgers–though they look to be about the fifth or sixth best team in the league nearly every year, I can always virtually guarantee that they’ll finish higher than they’re projected to. Bo Ryan’s been dancing around the top of the league for years now and somehow his teams always manage to be sneaky-good. What’s wonderful about this is that by the end of the year the team always seems to end up with all of the benefits of being a top-tier team, but it comes with all of the fun that accompanies an underdog's journey. Truly, Wisconsin seasons bring the best of both worlds, and that’s a big reason that it’s so much fun to follow the Badgers.

As usual, I’m not going to give an extensive breakdown on Wisconsin, since most people reading this know the team as well as, if not infinitely better than I do. You know from above how I expect the team to perform–it will finish top three in the Big Ten, make another tournament appearance, and be a consistently tough out for opponents. As to my thoughts on individual players, I could go on for pages and pages about what I think (well, except for the freshmen, who like everyone else, I know little about at this point). But instead, I’m just going to rank the players according to how important I think they will be to the success of the team this year. It’s not a ranking of who I think the best players are (thought that obviously plays into it), but merely how important each player will be with regard to creating a winning season. Of course, this will all change the moment the first guy blows out an ACL, but for now, here are my rankings:

1) Jon Leuer: I challenge anyone to dispute that Leuer is the most important guy on this team. He’s a candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year. This summer, Villanova coach Jay Wright essentially called him the most pleasant surprise on the USA Basketball select team, which as the name of the team would imply, had some pretty big names. And I’m pretty sure that I heard or read an interview with Bo Ryan where he uncharacteristically said that this was Leuer’s team this year. My only concern? Let’s hope that guys don’t fall into the trap of standing around and watching Leuer operate on the offensive end, as tended to happen last year prior to his injury.

2) Jordan Taylor: The point guard is always important, and Taylor is even more important than the average point guard for two reasons. First, he’s the most steady player on the Badger roster. Taylor may not be the best point guard that Bo Ryan has had at Wisconsin, but he’s perhaps the most solid, reliable point guard that he’s had. Second, with the backcourt exceedingly thin this year, the drop off from Taylor to whomever is backing him up (the early favorite seems to be Josh Gasser, just a freshman) will be huge.

3) Ryan Evans: Evans is important because the way that he plays can provide a spark for the Badgers. While his basketball skills are still developing, his athleticism and work ethic are unmatched, something Bo Ryan seems more than happy to bring up any time Evans’ name is mentioned in an interview. Evans may become a slight victim of his own success this year, with his rapid improvement from a raw prospect two years ago giving fans inflated expectations. I’m actually not expecting huge stats from him this year. But stats are not what Evans is about, and his impact on his teammates from the hard work and excitement that he brings to the court are what make him important to this team.

4) Tim Jarmusz: I’ll admit that I’m not one of those guys that sings the praises of Jarmusz, talks about his great position on defense, and thinks that only well-educated basketball fans can appreciate what he brings to the table. I get down on his poor shooting and lack of athleticism as much as (and perhaps more) the next guy. But Jarmusz is important because he a) tends not to make glaring errors and b) is versatile. The versatility is going to be a big deal on a team that returns only two other experienced scholarship guards. Jarmusz isn’t going to bring a ton to the table, but he’s not going to take much off of it, either. And with the roster that Wisconsin has this year, it needs a guy like that.

5) Josh Gasser/Ben Brust: Jordan Taylor, Rob Wilson and Tim Jarmusz. That’s two guards and one quasi-guard. Only one of them can play point guard. That’s what Wisconsin has returning in the backcourt. One of the freshmen is going to have to step up and provide some quality minutes at both guard spots in order for this team to flourish. Much like Jarmusz, whoever takes this role (to my surprise, the early favorite appears to be Gasser) won’t necessarily be among the best players on the team, but he will need to fill an important roster hole. So one of these guys will be remarkably important this year, while the other will likely slide way down on the importance scale until next year.

6) Keaton Nankivil: Nankivil is important because when he’s on his game, it makes the Badgers tough to stop. I’ve come to accept that Nankivil is not a guy that’s going to be stellar every night. But if he’s having one of those nights where he’s knocking down bizarre three-point shots, muscling guys off the blocks on defense, and generally taking pressure off of his more consistent teammates, the odds of a Badger win are pretty good.

7) Rob Wilson: Wilson is the guy on the team that tends to make clutch plays. If he was a bit more consistent, he’d be higher on the list. As it stands, the team is loaded at the forward spot and fairly thin at guard. Seeing as Wilson is one of only two returning scholarship players whose primary position is guard, you’d kind of like to make sure that he’s around.

8) Mike Bruesewitz: Some guys bring instant offense. Bruesewitz brings instant rebounding. He’s got a nose for the ball that no one else on the team has. He’ll bring energy off the bench, but a different type of energy than Ryan Evans. If this list was about pure basketball ability, he’d be higher up. As it’s simply about importance to the team, and the Badgers have an insanely deep frontcourt, I have to drop Bruesewitz in the rankings. If one of the guards goes down with an injury this year, the team will change fairly significantly. If one of the six capable forwards on the team is out for extended time, there are other guys who can step in.

9) Jared Berggren: I’m wary of all that I’ve read about people loving Jared Berggren’s game during the two open preseason scrimmages. After all, I developed a borderline irrational love of Berggren’s game two years ago when I saw him play 10 minutes in a preseason scrimmage before he redshirted for the year. Since then, I have barely seen him. As my notes about my previous super-brief viewing would imply, I suspect that Berggren has the talent to hang in the Big Ten. The question is whether he’s improved enough to steal some minutes from Jon Leuer, Keaton Nankivil, Ryan Evans, Mike Bruesewitz and Tim Jarmusz. That’s a lot of guys to jump over, and while Berggren is definitely capable of making that jump, he’ll have to do it before I consider him more important.

10) Duje Dukan: Based solely on what I’d read prior to the new freshmen coming to campus, Dukan was the new guy I was most excited to see in a Badger uniform. Word has it that he needs to bulk up a bit before being totally ready for college ball. This year he looks to be either stuck behind a massive frontcourt logjam or a candidate for a redshirt. Either way, don’t look for Dukan to see much time on the floor for now.

11) Wquinton Smith: Smith is a walk-on who is short in stature, so Wisconsin’s in trouble if he has to take on a role of importance. However, rumor has it that Smith, in addition to being able to bench press obscene amounts of weight, would be the most likely walk-on to see the floor in an emergency situation. But that’s exactly what it would be–an emergency.

12) Evan Anderson: I’m not sure what to make of Anderson just yet. On one hand, reports about his work ethic and progress from Wisconsin’s staff have been glowingly positive. On the other hand, he’s a strong 6'10" guy that averaged a mere 10 points and 6 rebounds per game during his senior year of high school while playing in one of the weakest regions of the state. Reports are that he’s considering redshirting. As you’ve seen above, with the depth in the Badger frontcourt and Anderson’s likely need to develop a bit, he’d be wise to do just that.

13) Brett Valentyn: It’s not every day that you see a walk-on like Valentyn take a redshirt year, so that would imply that he’s got a bit more value than the average walk-on. I still don’t plan on him seeing the floor this year, no matter how many points he puts up in a scrimmage.

14) J.P. Gavinski: I don’t think that anyone, perhaps not even Gavinski himself, would argue that J.P. Gavinski has been a particularly helpful player for the Badgers over his five years with the team. That said, I’ve gotten the sense from articles over the years that Gavinski is well-liked on the team and has great enthusiasm about being a Badger. You’d like everyone on your team to be able to contribute on the court. However, if there’s a guy that can’t, it’s nice that he’s at least able to keep things positive and loose in the locker room.

15) Dan Fahey/J.D. Wise: For all I know, Dan Fahey and J.D. Wise may very well be more talented than fellow walk-ons Wquinton Smith and Brett Valentyn. It doesn’t really matter, though, because as walk-ons, none of them are likely to ever see meaningful time on the floor. So as the younger, less well-known pair of walk-ons, Fahey and Wise round out the final level of importance.

We’ll start to get a read on what actual team roles are on Saturday night when Wisconsin hosts UW-LaCrosse in the Badgers' first exhibition game. Until then, the above should give some guidance as to what I think the rotation is going to look like. Bo Ryan’s not a slave to position labels, though, so don’t be surprised if he throws some strangely large lineups out as the season gets underway.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Economics of Being a Basketball Fan, Part 2: Choosing a Television Provider

Today’s entry continues my discussion of economic decisions of a basketball fan and focuses in on one specific element: television service. If you’re a basketball fan, you need television. While there’s generally no better way to watch basketball than by heading out to an arena or gym to watch the game live, television brings you far away teams that you wouldn’t otherwise see, the opportunity to see your favorite local team when they’re playing in far away places, and expert analysis on any number of channels. Indeed, college basketball is so intertwined with television that it has literally changed the rules of the game to accommodate broadcasts. It is virtually impossible to follow division one college basketball without watching it on television (I actually wrote a paper on this topic entitled “College Basketball and Television: A Revolutionary Change of the Last 20 Years” back when I was in college. And since you’re thinking it, yes, I do sometimes question the value of my communication arts degree.). Fortunately, these days we’ve got an array of options for how we receive our television programming. And it is with careful thought that I have typically chosen my television programming provider.

While getting the best cable or satellite provider for my basketball-heavy programming needs is something that’s usually floating somewhere in my mind, it’s currently at the forefront. Improving technology, a desire for great value, and perhaps most importantly, my current lack of a contract commitment, makes this a logical time for me to reassess which programming provider, if any, can best meet my needs. I’ve weighed pros and cons of the five most obvious options in my area and have listed those thoughts below. Before I get to those, though, two things that I should preface my analysis with:

1) While basketball programming is arguably the biggest factor in my choosing a television provider, it is certainly not the only factor. I like other television programs (as will become clear as I make my decision on which provider to go with), I like technology that makes my life easier, and above all else, I like value.

2) I have direct experience with only two of the options below. I was a Time Warner subscriber from 2003-2006 and have been a Directv subscriber from 2006 to the present day. This colors my analysis a bit. I feel like I know Directv fairly well at this point, and while I think I know Time Warner, some of my thoughts are admittedly probably a bit outdated (though Time Warner’s prevalence in Milwaukee means that I see it all the time at the homes of my friends and family members). The other options are things that I’m speculating about. For the most part, I try to be informed, but nothing beats first-hand knowledge.

On to breaking down the contenders:


Why Would I Stay With Directv?: It’s virtually impossible to find a channel, sports or otherwise, that Directv doesn’t carry. The Sports Pack, at $12.99 per month, has more regional sports channels than I could ever use (which allows me to find most Marquette games that are not televised on local free TV). And unlike with pro games, college and high school games don’t get blacked out. Mega March Madness, while overly expensive (and potentially obsolete with the NCAA’s new television contract for the NCAA tournament this year), is fairly awesome. It’s tough not to like the customizable on-screen guide, which allows you to filter out those weird niche channels that you’d never watch, like QVC, or the Big Ten Network from April through August, when all it’s showing is track and gymnastic meets. Changing up programming or setting your DVR on Directv’s website is remarkably easy, too. And aside from my basketball needs, I do like getting to see Friday Night Lights before the rest of the world does.

Why Would I Leave Directv?: You pay for what you’re getting, and Directv costs plenty. Directv’s business model of charging an initial fee (which feels like a purchase, even though it isn’t) to obtain a box and then charging a monthly rental fee to rent the box feels like double-dipping. I’d much prefer it a lot better if Directv would just pick one of the two ways to separate me from my money and stick with it. Also notable is that except in rare circumstances, any piece of new equipment comes with a new fee and new 2-year contract commitment. Thus, you’re prompted to think long and hard about whether you really want to upgrade to the latest and greatest new technology. On a personally bitter note, this issue first came up for me a week after my initial Directv installation. When I questioned a technician about why I was not receiving local channels in HD from the satellite, I was told that my current box didn’t work with the new technology delivering those channels and that I would need to upgrade to a newer box at a cost of $300. Being told that I needed to upgrade from soon-to-be obsolete equipment one week after said equipment was installed was not exactly something that I was excited to hear.

Time Warner

Why Would I Switch to Time Warner?: Time Warner Sports Channel has the rights to several Marquette and UWM games, which range from mildly challenging to impossible to see without said channel. It also shows various high school games throughout the year, has talk shows with local guests and fills its remaining time with shows where they interview washed-up old Milwaukee Brewers. Basically, it’s a channel targeted directly at me. And the On Demand features of Time Warner allow one to pull up the season’s high school games at one’s leisure, which is pretty cool. From my days as a Time Warner subscriber, I recall that they had a nice extended sports package. While less extensive than the Directv Sports Pack, it gave me everything that I needed. It was only $5.99 per month at the time. I’m sure the price has gone up in the last four years, but it’s a good bet that the Time Warner sports package still costs less than Directv’s. I already have Time Warner’s internet service, and bundling that with cable could potentially save me some money. Finally, the fact that there’s a Time Warner service center at the mall near my house ensures that service is always easy to come by. And unlike the fees and commitments that come with Directv upgrades, I recall upgrading my old Time Warner equipment with at no additional cost or commitment by simply exchanging it at the service center.

Why Wouldn’t I Switch To Time Warner: I won’t recount the full details of my last Time Warner cable installation experience back in 2003, but the end results were this–three lost Saturdays for me, a $100+ credit to my account, and a week’s unpaid suspension for the technician that handled my installation. I’ve come to accept that it was an isolated set of bad incidents, but the experience still taints my view. (To Time Warner’s credit, when I had internet service installed in 2006 at my current home, the installer was outstanding in pretty much every way possible.) I’m probably not saving much by switching from Directv to Time Warner, and I’m losing the NFL Network, which to my surprise, is a pretty outstanding channel. And there are probably one or two other great channels that I would lose, as well. While I would like the Time Warner Sports Channel, I can get most of the Marquette games (and some of the UWM games) that they show on random regional channels on the Directv Sports Pack. And in the event that there’s a game that I don’t get, my gym has Time Warner. So I can watch Time Warner Sports there AND force myself to get in a workout. Thus, one could argue that not having Time Warner Sports in my home is actually making me healthier.

AT&T U-verse

Why Would I Switch to U-verse?: Friends that have the service have generally said good things. While other providers are now offering whole-house DVR, U-verse has had that capability for awhile, so all of the kinks are probably worked out. It appears to be the one option that actually would save me a reasonable amount of money (assuming that I switched over both my television and internet service to them) even before the initial sign-up rebates and discounts, which are significant. A sports package is offered, and from my experience with Time Warner, I know that even though the U-verse sports package likely isn’t as extensive as the Directv package, it will still probably have everything that I truly want. The lack of a mandatory contract commitment (you’ll still be facing a contract if you’re looking for a deal) is a plus, because unlike Directv, I won’t necessarily have to ponder if I want to lock myself in for another two years before deciding on making changes to my services.

Why Wouldn’t I Switch to U-verse?: Interestingly, I’ve made the decision to switch to U-verse in the past and have unsuccessfully attempted to switch twice. In each instance, I made an online request with AT&T to set up an installation date and was subsequently denied service. Upon calling AT&T to confirm why I was denied service, I was informed that it was for reasons related to my credit. This somewhat bewildered me for two reasons. First, I was under the impression that I had a very good credit rating. Shortly after my denial I pulled my files with each of the credit bureaus and confirmed this to be the case. Thus, it is unclear to me what issue AT&T has with my credit. Second, I’ve had AT&T wireless phone service for somewhere in the neighborhood of five years and have never missed a payment. Given this long history, it’s a bit frustrating that AT&T will gladly accept my money for one service that it offers, but won’t even offer me the opportunity to subscribe to another one that I’m interested in. The experience makes me question not only the idea of attempting to sign up for U-verse again, but also whether I will continue with AT&T wireless phone service when my contract is up.

Dish Network

Why Would I Switch to Dish Network?: Back in grad school when I lived in the rough, low-income area of Madison (Note: This speaks to how great Madison is. In how many other cities can you live in the bad part of town and have a wooded bike trail 100 feet from your apartment?), lots of people in the neighborhood had Dish Network, implying that it may be a cheaper option. So there’s the idea of saving some money, which is always attractive. Last time I glanced at their offerings (which was admittedly some time ago), I was intrigued by their multi-room DVR and the ability to sign up for service without locking into a contract (albeit at a slightly higher price than for those with contracts).

Why Wouldn’t I Switch to Dish Network?: I’ve never had a friend with Dish Network who has had particularly good things to say. Its resolved standoff with Fox Sports leaves me with some concern over future deals, as getting key channels blacked out is never fun. Furthermore, with the satellite providers, the old way of thinking (and it may be ancient at this point) was that Dish Network was for people serious about movies while Directv was for those serious about sports. You can guess which category I fall into. Whatever the reason, I’ve not given too much serious thought to signing up with Dish.

Canceling All Service

Why Would I Cancel All Service?: Obviously the total lack of a monthly bill is the benefit here. I had a friend recently give up cable service. He has reported that with his antenna picking up the local channels in crystal clear fashion and the ability to connect his computer to his television, he hasn’t missed out on anything that he’s wanted to see during college football season. And if there was any game that he wanted to see, but couldn’t get at home, the cost of going to watch a game or two at a bar probably still wouldn’t add up to the monthly cost of cable. Maybe technology really can get me all the games that I want to see without the need to pay a provider. It seems clear that my computer can get me every non-sports program that I want.

Why Wouldn’t I Cancel All Service?: It seems like my sporting options would be at best, a hassle to find and watch and at worst, incomplete. Call me lazy, but I like the ease of being able to scroll through my channel guide and pick out the game or program that I want without putting much thought into it. I think the day is coming soon when it will be common and advisable to cut ties with one’s cable/satellite provider, I just don’t think I’m there yet. Let’s give the technology a few more years...

My Final Decision

As with everything else, it’s complicated. Here’s my tentative, two-part plan:

1) I’m definitely sticking with Directv for the next few months. Based on my experience, I like the service, despite its high cost relative to competitors. More importantly, Directv is currently airing the final season of the television program Friday Night Lights, months before NBC will get to air the program. While it’s sort of pathetic that my love for one television program could drive this decision, that’s exactly what’s going on here. (Seriously, check this one out on DVD if you've not already seen it.)

2) When Friday Night Lights ends forever (with 12 episodes left, I’d guess this takes me to February), I’m making one final attempt to sign up for AT&T U-verse service. While it lacks some of the dazzling programming of Directv and Time Warner, I believe it’s the best value of the above options. So, I will be excited to sign up if AT&T decides this time around that it is willing to accept my money. If I’m again denied for unknown credit reasons, I’ll likely remain with my pricey, but solid Directv plan (and perhaps lock into one of those annoying 2-year contracts in order to do some equipment upgrades that I’ve been holding off on for years). I’ll also be canceling AT&T phone service and finding a company that doesn’t view me as a bad risk, but that’s an entirely different story...

I recognize that, despite my modest attempts to keep up with things, I may be off-base in a few ways in my analysis of this one. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below or e-mail me directly if you think I’ve missed something or completely misread one or more of my options. Clearly this is not an issue that I take lightly.

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