Thursday, December 30, 2010

Marquette vs. Vanderbilt: Not Quite There Yet

After a hectic couple of nights (I only barely saw the Wisconsin-Minnesota game, a contest that I had circled on the calendar weeks ago), I finally got the chance to relax in my living room (well, after I took down the Christmas tree) and watch some basketball last night. Marquette and Vanderbilt looked to be a fun one. I’ve been waiting for Marquette to get a big non-conference win, and I have a bit of a distaste for Vanderbilt, so I was looking for the Golden Eagles to lay a major beat down on the Commodores. Unfortunately, that was not to be, with Vanderbilt pulling out a squeaker at the end. But it was nonetheless an entertaining game to watch, with perhaps as many dunks as in any game I’ve seen this year. Game thoughts below:

1) About five minutes into the game, Jae Crowder gave me one of those amusing moments that happens every so often where I think to myself “I didn’t know he could shoot from three-point range” as a guy’s launching a shot. And then .5 seconds later as the ball is missing the rim entirely, I realize why I was surprised to see that particular player shooting.

2) Great to see Joe Fulce on the floor, after questioning just a few weeks ago whether he would ever play basketball again.

3) I’m always perplexed when I see games at Vanderbilt. Who thought that floor would be a good idea? I kind of understand the concept of the raised floor, but I’m at a loss trying to figure out why anyone would think it a good idea to put the benches on the baselines. Given that virtually every other basketball facility has sideline benches and that set up tends to work remarkably well, wouldn’t it seem logical to set up your own facility in this way? I’m all for creativity, but sometimes you just need to conform.

4) Dear ESPN: If in any way true, that was a nice tidbit that your commentators dropped in about Chris Otule wearing goggles because he only has one eye. But as great a factoid as that is, I’d ask that you not share it with Dick Vitale before he calls any Marquette games. The world doesn’t need any more excuses for Vitale to make his old “I only have one eye!” joke.

5) Vander Blue may not start for Marquette, but is there anyone out there that doesn’t think he’s one of the top five players on the roster? He’s come along much quicker than I expected.

6) It was a subtle moment, but there was a great shot in the second half of Buzz Williams on the baseline, where the benches are at Vanderbilt, shouting out a complaint to the referees. In the frame as Williams was yelling were one male and one female Vanderbilt fan, each of whom looked to be about student age. Both fans were calmly sitting in their front-row seats until Williams began his complaint. The look on the face of the male fan quickly shifted to one of anger, as if he was ready to confront Williams about punching one of his family members, or something else way more serious than a traveling call or three-second violation. I can’t do it justice writing about it, and it probably makes no sense if you didn’t see it. But if you happened to catch it while you were watching the game, you probably understand the understated brilliance of this moment.

7) Okay, I’ll admit it–Chris Otule is starting to look like a serviceable player. I still don’t think he has a high ceiling, and I will never think of him as the solid big man that Marquette could really use, but he’s developed some moves and is not totally embarrassing when he’s on the court. And that’s not something that I could have said about him when he was a freshman.

8) There were times last night when I was completely embarrassed to watch Marquette’s defense. There was one notable moment early in the second half when one of Vanderbilt’s guards took the ball 3/4 of the way down the court and three Marquette defenders in the lane just watched helplessly as he slipped by them to effortlessly lay the ball in. I’ve rarely seen such a poor effort on one play from high school players, let alone a trio of decent college players. And then there was the more glaring last possession for Vanderbilt, when the Commodores patience led them to break Marquette down for an fairly easy layup. I’m not sure if the Golden Eagles don’t know what they’re doing or if they’ve gotten tired of the consistent effort that they’ve always given and just aren’t trying all the time. Either way, it was upsetting to see the lapses last night.

9) Watching Marquette not even get a shot off on their final possession really took me back to the Tom Crean days at MU. The only difference being, of course, that if Crean was still at Marquette, this failure would not have been due to a player tripping. Someone would have just dribbled out the clock while over-thinking things.

10) I can’t recall too many non-conference seasons more frustrating than the one that Marquette just completed. The Golden Eagles played four games against big-time opponents and lost all four. Yet none of the losses were by more than five points, and one of them was an excellent effort against Duke, the best team in the country. At some point you’d have to suspect that Marquette will get over the hump and hold on to beat some excellent opponents in Big East play. After all, this is a talented team. But a good team needs to win games, and even though a shift in 14 points in all the right places would drastically alter the season to date, the fact still remains that Marquette has not yet won a game against a name opponent.

So all in all, not the best of nights for Marquette. I still think this team has a few Big East upsets in them. Let’s hope they get a big win soon, though, because it’s tough as a fan to stay patient through all of the near misses.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What He Said...

Last night I typed up some thoughts on point guard Reggie Smith's decision to transfer from Marquette after just one semester. And this morning I decided that there's no need to post those thoughts after I read something that said everything better I did over at the Anonymous Eagle blog. Very well-reasoned analysis, and in addition, it raises some interesting points that I may look to dig deeper into when I have a spare moment tonight (in addition to my regularly scheduled hoops watching). I love it when someone articulates the thoughts running through my head better than I ever could.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tuesday Night Hodgepodge

Last night was a bit of a letdown due to the holidays. I was excited a few days ago when one of my friends asked me if I wanted to check out a high school game (usually it’s me doing the hard work of convincing someone to see a bunch of high school kids play basketball), but ultimately realized that I had too many chores to complete prior to Christmas to head out and watch hoops. Fortunately, I had my television, as well as a Marquette radio broadcast to keep me company as I wrapped Christmas gifts and prepared edible holiday treats in anticipation of the 25th of December. Here are some observations about the things that I saw and heard (and a few that I didn’t) on my night of trying to take in some basketball along with my holiday cheer:

1) As I was headed to the grocery store to buy more poppy seeds for a holiday creation, I was particularly pleased to flip on the Marquette radio pre-game show and hear George Thompson, the longtime former Marquette radio color commentator, filling in with his old partner Steve “The Homer” True last night. Thompson’s propensity for ridiculous comments and generally sounding like a fool always made for interesting radio. Much as I enjoy Jim McIlvaine and the occasional drop-in by Tony Smith, there’s nothing quite like sitting around wondering what the heck is going to come out of George Thompson’s mouth. So it was nice to have him back.

2) Thompson, also a former star player at Marquette, conspicuously disappeared from broadcasts a few years back shortly after his retired number was briefly given to then-freshman Lazar Hayward. I recall Tom Crean lamely trying to talk his way out of this miscue at the time by claiming that Marquette doesn’t retire numbers, it retires jerseys. This would have been a much more believable excuse if a) Marquette had previously made a practice of handing out other numbers from players honored with retired jerseys, and b) Marquette hadn’t additionally retired the numbers 77 and 11 in honor of Al McGuire and the Apollo 11 crew, respectively. Last time I looked, neither Al McGuire nor the Apollo 11 crew wore jerseys. In any event, while there has never been any public confirmation of a rift, it would appear to the casual observer that Marquette has mended fences with Thompson, and that’s good for everyone. Particularly fans who want to listen to a broadcast where they’ll ask themselves multiple times “Did I really just hear someone say that?”

3) In the pre-game, Thompson did not disappoint in terms of ridiculousness, noting that he was looking forward to watching Vander Blue, and inexplicably referring to Blue as “Monsieur Bleu” in a terrible French accent. I still have no idea of what was going through his head on that one, however, I particularly appreciated the quip, as the recipe that I was preparing last night required mass quantities of blue cheese. So I sort of felt like George was directing the broadcast at me.

4) I'm not sure if I should praise Steve "Homer" True's repeated mentions that Mississippi State guard D'Angelo Jackson was from Milwaukee and starred at Milwaukee Pius during high school, or complain that he kept repeating this fact so much. Either way, it was interesting to find out that Jackson had ended up at Mississippi State. Given that he had bounced around from Creighton, to UW-Green Bay and then a junior college before landing at MSVU, I had sort of lost track of Jackson until last night.

5) In addition to listening to the Marquette game on the radio, I took some time out to watch the start of the Ohio State-UNC-Asheville game on TV. My particular desire to watch this game was twofold (aside from just wanting to see a good team play). First, I had not yet gotten an extended look at OSU freshman Jared Sullinger, who has been putting up mind-boggling numbers. Seeing as Kyrie Irving is presumably out for the year now, it seemed it would behoove me to see the new top freshman in the country. Sullinger did not disappoint. Second, I also wanted to get a look at fellow OSU freshman DeShaun Thomas, who I had the good fortune of seeing at the Indiana State High School Championships two years ago, when he was just a junior (in one of the two great events from the past two years that I somehow neglected to write about). I’ll never forget walking into Conseco Fieldhouse and having a friend note “we might want to watch this guy,” after noticing Thomas’s averages of 36 ppg and 16 rpg in the game program.

6) During last night’s OSU game, I briefly reflected on the amusing fact that David Lighty has been at OSU since the magical season of Greg Oden and Mike Conley. It occurred to me last night that someday Lighty (after his own pro career, of course) will be able to tell his grandkids that he played with the best freshman in OSU history. I find it amusing that if you’d told anyone in 2006 that Lighty would be referring to someone other than Greg Oden when potentially making this statement, they’d have looked at you as if you were insane.

7) Since I’m hopping around on topics, I suppose that I should make some comment about the Connecticut women’s team breaking the record for longest winning streak last night, winning their 89th game and unseating John Wooden’s UCLA squads of the early 1970s. I congratulate the Huskies. I don’t care how much of a talent advantage you have–winning 89 in a row of anything is a ridiculous accomplishment. But while I congratulate you and respect what you’re doing, I frankly don’t care much about it. I’ve tried to get into women’s hoops, and it has simply never worked out. As a college freshman, I recall feverishly trying to talk my dorm-mates into getting season tickets to the women’s games at Wisconsin. My main argument? Who could turn down season tickets to anything if they were only $26? I found no takers. Nor would anyone go to a single game with me. A big part of my love of sports is its ability to give me an easy way to socialize with others. And the fact that I can find more takers to watch a Thursday night division three game at Carroll University during a snow storm than I can to attend a single college women’s game with me tells me all that I need to know about the value of women's basketball in my life.

8) I saw nothing of the game, but heard later in the evening that in high school action, Menomonee Falls dropped to 5-5 after a loss to a perennially strong Brookfield Central team last night. Mark me down as unsurprised by the Indians’ struggles to date–it’s something that I’ve been anticipating since the summer. While many will undoubtedly look at Menomonee Falls’ underwhelming start to the year as proof that top recruit J.P. Tokoto may not be all that he’s cracked up to be, nothing could be further from the truth. Falls was overrated to start the year, not because of Tokoto (who is still awesome), but because of the expectations set up by their outstanding team last season. People tend to be blinded by the shine from Tokoto’s star power and forget that Menomonee Falls graduated a remarkable senior class last year. Talented forward Jonathan Phillips took inside pressure off of Tokoto, and the backcourt was dominated by three solid guards who also excelled in other sports and therefore knew what it was like to compete for state championships. It’s rare that a school has a senior class that just happens to be full of winners, but Falls had such a class last year. That’s a bigger deal than most people typically realize. Falls actually does have plenty of talent this year, but it’s tough to replace the intangibles that last year’s seniors brought to the table. So if you want to blame someone for Menomonee Falls starting this year a bit overrated, don’t blame J.P. Tokoto–blame the guys that graduated last year. They'd have had a great team even without their young superstar teammate, and they’re the ones that really created these expectations.

And with that last rant over, I wish everyone a happy holidays. I’m more than likely out until after Christmas, unless something huge happens. Here’s looking forward to conference play after Christmas!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Nothing To See Here...

I was excited to have last night totally free and available for watching some basketball. That is, until I saw what my options were. None of the local division one teams were playing, so that was out. High school games are a Tuesday and Friday night affair, so I knew I wasn't going to find myself in a high school gym. With those options out of the way, I made a cursory check of the schedules of the local division three teams and what they were doing, which turned out to be nothing. In my desperate last move, I checked the television schedule and found out that I officially had two options: a) a high school game between two national powerhouse high schools that I knew nothing about on ESPN, and the Northwestern-American game on the Big Ten Network.

While I love basketball, I feel that my free time is too valuable to waste on high school players (no matter how phenomenal) that I know nothing about, or the Northwestern Wildcats. So I did what anyone in my situation would do--I cleaned my basement instead.

Here's looking forward to finals being over soon so that our nation's colleges and universities can get back to playing basketball. In the meantime, I'll be back on Monday with thoughts from whatever game(s) I happen to make it to this weekend.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An Evening of Frustration

A quick note–due to a computer error on my part, I thought that yesterday I posted my thoughts from Monday’s Wisconsin vs. UW-Green Bay game, but I did not actually do so. I’ve made certain that they’re now up, though, so if you’re itching for some thoughts from a less-than-exciting contest, feel free to scroll down. Now, on to today’s thoughts.

Last night was a fiasco when it came to hoops. The world basically seemed like it was against me when it came to seeing the basketball that I wanted to watch last evening. There were three things that I wanted to watch, but none of them worked out for me. Here’s what I wanted to see, and what ended up happening:

Marquette vs. Wauwatosa East: It’s my favorite high school rivalry and was a game between two of the only four high school teams that I’ve seen this year. But I knew a little over a week ago that a commitment that I couldn’t get out of would keep me from going to see this one. I shrugged it off at the time, as the rivalry has died down a bit during recent years, with one team usually holding a strong edge heading into games. This year, between Tosa East’s uneven early play and Marquette’s strong senior class, it looked like the Hilltoppers would have that edge and walk away with a convincing win. Imagine my surprise to flip on the radio on the drive home (yes, I’m one of the 5 people out there that knows where to find a high school basketball game on the radio) and hear that it was a 29-point win for Wauwatosa East. I can’t believe I missed it. Mark me down for the next meeting right now, as it looks like the rivalry may be revived. There’s little doubt in my mind that the Hilltoppers will be as prepared as ever for when Tosa East heads to their gym later this season.

Jeronne Maymon’s Tennessee Debut: Because I didn’t have anywhere to be until 7pm last night, I was optimistic that I would be able to take in the first half of the Tennessee vs. Oakland game and perhaps see the Tennessee debut of former Madison Memorial star and controversial Marquette transfer Jeronne Maymon. No luck there. I was able to tune into the game, but Maymon is still awaiting clearance on his eligibility from the Tennessee administration (for seemingly ridiculous reasons, I might add). Adding insult to injury, while the game ended in an surprising upset by Oakland, I had long since been pulled away from my TV by that time. So really, I got almost nothing that I was looking for from this game.

UWM vs. DePaul: This one seemed like a very interesting game to me. UWM can’t compete with many Big East teams (Marquette’s near stumble against the Panthers a few weeks back, notwithstanding), but if there’s one that they might be able to take down, it’s a bottom-feeder like DePaul. The game was listed on two channels in my Directv expanded sports package. While it has become clear that Marquette games are going to be blacked out all year on these channels due to Time Warner Sports’ exclusive rights deal, I was keeping my fingers crossed that this one would not be. Because Time Warner Sports also holds exclusive rights to several UWM games, logically it would follow that this game would be blacked out. However, given that thousands of people locally would want to watch a Marquette basketball game, while maybe 100 people would go out of their way to find a UWM game on an obscure regional sports channel, I thought there might be a chance that the UWM blackouts would somehow be overlooked. They were not, and my DVR could not record the game. I later learned that the game was on ESPN3, but by the time that I figured that out, the game was close to being decided and the latter minutes were not really worth my time. Let this be a lesson–when in basketball-watching peril, always look to the computer.

It’s another night off for me, as the holiday season is full of strange commitments. Hopefully I’ll find something to watch on Thursday and be back with some more thoughts on Friday.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wisconsin vs. UWGB: Rounding Out the State Matchups

Last night I plunked down on my couch to see the last of the in-state rivalry games this year, as Wisconsin hosted UW-Green Bay. Obviously as Wisconsin win was expected, but with their upset at the hands of the Phoenix at the Resch Center last year, I wasn’t willing to take anything for granted. It ended up being a fairly bland 70-54 win, but was interesting enough to bring forth a few notable thoughts, and I’ve left those below for you.

1) After watching Bob Knight diagram a play with a pen and a piece of scrap paper a little over a week ago, my friend Dez and I have been noticing an increased use of white boards by color commentators since this past weekend during basketball broadcasts. This is a good development, but I'd say that the Big Ten Network upped the ante last night with Jim Jackson's dry erase board that looked like a miniature version of one half of Wisconsin's court. Very cool, and I sort of want one, though I have no idea what I would do with it.

2) My favorite early moment of the game came when 5'10" Badger guard Wquinton Smith found himself defending 7'0" Phoenix center Alec Brown. Smith's effort in attempting to deny the entry pass was commendable, but some things just aren't going to work when you're giving up over a foot. Accordingly, an entry pass directly over Smith's head led to an easy Brown layup.

3) Well, they talked about it during the game, so I suppose I can chime in on the new Big Ten logo and division names for next year's expanded conference. Like just about everyone else, I'm not a fan of the logo. I'm a big fan of simplicity (look in my second dresser drawer and you'll find that roughly 50% of my t-shirts bear the name of a college in plain block lettering), but the new Big Ten logo is so simple that it almost feels like no one put any effort into it. Perhaps I'm spoiled by the awesome current logo that slyly weaves the number 11 into the words "Big Ten," Of course, compared to the "Legends" and "Leaders" monikers for the football divisions, the logo looks pretty good. I loved listening to Jim Jackson dance around the his feelings on the names during the broadcast as he repeatedly said about them "I'm gonna leave it alone." Solid move, Jim–when you can't defend your employer's decisions, better to say nothing.

4) Kudos to the Big Ten Network for throwing up a graphic showing color commentator Jim Jackson's chosen top-five players in the conference without deeming them the "Jackson Five," a moniker which was lamely forced into last year's broadcasts when Jackson gave his keys to the game. With Tim Doyle calling other games on the network, there's no need for any more forced jokes.

5) It was the debut for former Sussex Hamilton star Kameron Cerroni, who injured his knee last high school football season and had been anticipating redshirting his freshman year as he continued to recover. Nice to see that despite his layoff, Cerroni was not shy, jacking up plenty of three-pointers during his limited minutes. Hopefully once the rust is off, Cerroni will be back to his prolific-scoring self. The Phoenix could always use another reliable scorer.

6) So far this season there’s been a lot to talk about with the Badgers. The immediate emergence of Josh Gasser, the ascendence of Mike Bruesewitz (who had an outstanding game last night) to a starting role, and Keaton Nankivil’s recent solid play. With all that’s going on, I’ve nearly forgotten that Tim Jarmusz is on the team despite him still seeing significant minutes every game. And I’m actually okay with that. People start to complain about Jarmusz when there’s not much to talk about and when Wisconsin needs to lean on him too much. But Jarmusz is best when you can just plug him in and you don’t have to think about him. Here’s hoping that by the end of the season I’ve almost completely forgotten who Jarmusz is, because if that’s the case, then everyone (including Jarmusz) is doing his job.

Not a ton of observations today, but like I said, it was sort of a bland game (fittingly, I also prepared myself sort of a bland dinner for consumption during the game). Back tomorrow with thoughts on something, though I’m not totally certain what I’m going to watch. The smart money is on the DePaul-UWM game at this point.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Marquette vs. Wisconsin: The Rivalry Continues

As always, Saturday was my favorite game of the year--the Marquette vs. Wisconsin game. It's the one time a year when I'm forced to root against Marquette, and it's a typically a good time for some back and forth between myself and my large contingent of friends that are Marquette fans. Thankfully, this year the Badgers generally controlled the tempo and the game prior to a brief late game scare, and Wisconsin walked away with the 69-64 win. My game thoughts below:

1) Perhaps my favorite moment of Saturday came prior to the game when I began the walk over to the game with some friends from a nearby tavern. Looking to play a quick joke on my friend The Franchise, my friend Dave told him that he had received a text message that the game had started at 1pm instead of 1:30, for reasons related to television. The Franchise was livid, and stayed that way for about a block and a half, somehow not tipped off to Dave's fib by the hundreds of other fans streaming towards the Bradley Center along with us. He was only tipped off by the giggling of the group as we watched The Franchise quickly devolve into anger about the early start.

2) As usual, big kudos to the people who produce the game experience at Marquette. The pre-game video that specifically focused on the history of the Marquette-Wisconsin rivalry was brilliant and definitely made me smile.

3) Saturday's game highlighted one of the things that has excited me most about both Wisconsin and Marquette as the season has unfolded--depth. Wisconsin saw 12 different players log minutes and Marquette had 11 different players take the floor. While there's an argument to be made that both teams would be better off settling on a tighter rotation (and that very well may happen as the season goes on), it's pretty amazing to me that both teams have nearly an entire roster of players that the coaches feel comfortable inserting into a tight game. Although I will admit that late in the game it scared me a bit to see a Wisconsin lineup of Wquinton Smith, Jordan Taylor, Tim Jarmusz, Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren. I know that you can't have the starters out there all game, but seeing nearly the entire B-team down the stretch still causes some tension.

4) I could probably say this after any game, but I love the energy that Mike Bruesewitz brings to the table. I've seldom seen a player have a more impactful performance while scoring only two points.

5) By and large, one of my favorite things about the Marquette vs. Wisconsin rivalry is that I've never really had a bad incident with an opposing fan. Saturday was no exception for me. It's generally pretty tough to hide from the opposing fan base when your school colors are bright like red or gold, so a fair amount of harassment is to be expected when you're in the minority at a game like this. But it was a remarkably respectful day all around where I was sitting. Post-game, a few friends told me tales of people acting like jackasses, and I did witness a handful of Wisconsin fans gloating like idiots on the walk out of the game, but overall, I like the respectful nature of the rivalry.

6) As the early part of the season has unfolded, I've found myself really liking Davonte Gardner of Marquette and Jared Berggren of Wisconsin. While both have their differences, the thing that I've come to realize that I love about both is that they are legitimate low-post players, a rarity in today's game. Big guys in the modern day seem to be concerned with being versatile, but both Gardner and Berggren are quite at home putting crafty moves on defenders down low. Berggren dabbles with a three-point shot, but it's clear that he's more comfortable down low, while Gardner seems to be able to drop the ball through the hoop on just about anyone. Why Marquette didn't take more advantage of Gardner's skills on Saturday is a mystery to me, particularly given that Wisconsin's defensive switching often left him defended by a much smaller guard.

7) My favorite thing about watching Wisconsin on Saturday was noticing how calm they were throughout the game. Marquette had a solid defensive gameplan. The Golden Eagles' zone press, while not overly aggressive, made the Badgers work to get the ball up the floor. Then, Marquette's ball pressure and extended defense forced the Badgers to exert great effort in order to make even simple passes. But Wisconsin never panicked, and that's largely why they came out on top. It was a classic performance from a Bo Ryan team--methodical and effective. It's not exactly exciting to watch a team pass out of a basic full-court press, but the team that can do so like it's second nature is always going to stand a good chance of coming out on top.

8) As I believe I said at the start of the year, Jordan Taylor may not be the best point guard that Bo Ryan has ever had, but he's probably the most solid. It has quickly become apparent to me that there's no better guard for Ryan's system than Taylor.

9) I was amused and disappointed by the number of fans that I saw leave early as Wisconsin found its way to a double-digit lead for portions of the second half. Most notably, the guy sitting directly behind me looked at his two kids just as the 8-minute media timeout in the second half ended and said "If Wisconsin scores here, we're heading out." Indeed, Wisconsin did score to increase its lead to 11, and this gentleman and his two kids grabbed their coats and left. Now, I grew up with a father who took great joy in leaving games early to beat traffic when things got out of hand. But I think even he would concede that it would be a bit presumptuous to walk out with only an 11-point lead with eight minutes to go. Particularly when it's a Marquette team that can score in bunches that's down, and particularly when the game was occurring on a Saturday afternoon. (Yes, I get walking out early on an 8pm game vs. Prairie View on a school night.) I was still rooting for Wisconsin when that guy left, but there was a small part of me hoping for Marquette to win on a thrilling last second shot after a furious comeback, just to spite that guy who left with eight minutes to go.

With a big Badger win in the books, I headed back out to meet with my gold-wearing friends for a pleasant post-game gathering. I'll make enjoy the rest of this year as a victor, as I know all too well that this is a rivalry that never swings too far in one direction.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

First High School Game of the Year: Whitefish Bay vs. Wauwatosa East

Last evening I attended my first high school game of the year, as Wauwatosa East played host to Whitefish Bay. The game was intriguing for a few reasons. It involved two teams that should compete for championships within their respective conferences, that stand a decent chance of competing against one another again at sectionals, and that each have a power forward ranked among the area's best. Aside from that, long ago I attended Tosa East and I now have a good friend who's close to the Whitefish Bay program, so the game was personally interesting to me. With that in mind, my friend Gus and I took our seats and enjoyed the opportunity for us to get our first look of the season at the Red Raiders and Blue Dukes. The evening ended with a 64-46 win by Tosa East. My thoughts below:

1) Having eaten just before the game, I failed to take advantage of the Tosa East concession stand, but my friend Gus partook in an old favorite item of his at the game--an impressive looking walking taco. On a base level, I'm impressed that a high school concession stand has something beyond popcorn, candy and soda. But I'm even more impressed that a high school concession stand can sell a legitimately tasty looking item for only $3. I'll think twice before eating prior to a game again.

2) After reading an article a few days ago about Wauwatosa East, I was amused that the roster includes a guy that seems to be casually referred to by everyone, including the coach, simply as "Money." Nicknames simply weren't that cool when I was in high school. If we'd have had a guy named "Money," it's pretty much guaranteed that it would have been an ironic nickname to make fun of some guy who was a mediocre player. But seeing as Diamontae "Money" McKinley is a starter, he's clearly not regarded as mediocre. And for the record, hearing the Tosa East coach yell things at his players like "Give the ball up to Money!" made the nickname even more amusing than it was when I saw it in print.

3) Last season, Whitefish Bay's Jamie Schneck was one of my favorite players to watch and he continued to be such a player last night. He didn't put up huge numbers--he had a solid, but unspectacular 13 points--but he generally looked smooth and was undoubtedly the most polished player on the floor. I have no idea what colleges are involved with Schneck, or where he's considering playing next year, but the future looks bright for him.

4) Beyond Schneck, I like the rest of Whitefish Bay’s frontcourt, namely Ron Patten and Jack Beck. Patten made a minimal impact last night, but his size and ability give the impression that he’ll preform better in future games. As for Beck, his wide frame would seem to imply that he’d be slow, but that’s definitely not the case. Add in his soft hands and ability to effortlessly destroy opponents while boxing them out, and you’ve got yourself a player.

5) Aaron Uden is looking like the odds-on choice to be the under-appreciated Tosa East player that I really enjoy watching this year. A 6'4" forward, Uden sets hard screens, battles for seemingly every rebound, and generally does the dirty work that goes unnoticed by people watching the ball. That's not to say that he doesn't have a bit of flash--he did throw down a breakaway dunk for Tosa East's first points of the game, and totaled the second highest number of points for the Red Raiders last night. But it’s the former things that stood out about his play.

6) For a variety of reasons, I didn't make it to a Wauwatosa East home game last season, so I may be late to the game on noting that the gym floor has gotten a nice face lift. With a lighter red color and white lettering, the floor is a solid update from the design that's the only one I had ever seen dating back to the first high school game that I saw back in 1985. It does make me feel somewhat old that my old high school gym has changed so much from the increasingly long ago days when I was a student, but I'm definitely glad that today's youngsters have a much more attractive place than I did in which to play games.

7) I was somewhat surprised by a fairly small crowd at Tuesday night's game. I suppose that Tosa East's lackluster prior season and 0-2 start this year has dampened some enthusiasm on the part of fans. However, last night's game was a fairly attractive non-conference contest featuring two of the better forwards in the area (Jamie Schneck and Darrell Bowie), so I'd have expected a few more fans in the building. A mildly solid home student section was in attendance, however the lack of adults was notable. The one benefit to decreased attendance is that I may no longer have to opt for my usual traffic-avoiding parking spot a block from the school. But I'm still hopeful for an enthusiastic crowd at coming games.

8) Tosa East guard Jackson Orin provided a huge spark off the bench, knocking down the first three 3-pointers that he took. On a team that still needs to settle on a regular rotation, Orin made a good case for continued playing time.

9) I promise to pay more attention to Tosa East standout Darrell Bowie the next time I see the Red Raiders play. My lack of attention to Bowie had more to do with the fact that he’s the one somewhat known entity on a team that I’ve long followed, but currently know next to nothing about. But his 17 point game implies that something good was going on–I was just too busy watching other things to make any notable observations about it.

10) At one point in the fourth quarter, Whitefish Bay trailed by only four points. But in the final quarter, Tosa East reversed course on the inability to finish out games that had marked its first two showdowns of the season. Calm and methodical, Tosa East took advantage of Whitefish Bay turnovers and repeatedly found easy layups while slowing the game down on offense. The home team played about as well as possible in the final six minutes, while the road team proceeded to panic and turn the ball over. Hence, the 18-point victory by Tosa East.

With a high school game in the books, I can shift my focus back to college hoops tonight as I head west to watch UWM visit Wisconsin. Given that one never knows which UWM team will show up on a given night, this one could be interesting.

On a final note, here’s wishing a speedy recovery to Marquette’s Joe Fulce, who from the sounds of it, suffered a potentially career-ending knee injury last night. Never a star for the Golden Eagles, Fulce had become one of my favorite role players, and assuming that he won’t be returning to the floor this year, I’m really going to miss seeing him play. Best of luck to Fulce, and here’s hoping that the early speculation about the severity of the injury is wrong.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Greatest Promotion Ever

While cruising around and skimming a few message boards last night, I happened upon a link in a thread on the MU Scoop board noting that Marquette's February 19 game against Seton Hall will be Father Wild Bobblehead Night. It's certainly appropriate that Marquette's well-respected retiring president who's been a good friend to the basketball program is receiving such recognition. But leaving that logic aside, I think it's simply awesome that there will now be a priest with his own bobblehead. Count me in for this game. Now I just need to figure out where I should place Father Wild in my bobblehead cabinet (yes, I actually have one): next to Bobblehead Polish Sausage, or next to Bobblehead Jesus. I'm thinking the latter is more appropriate, but the former would be more fun.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Around the Dial...

Last night I had my friend Dez over to my place to watch the final night of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The plan was to watch the Wisconsin-N.C. State game, followed by the Duke-Michigan State game. Those plans were derailed a bit by technology (more on that below) and the fact that there were more interesting things to watch in the second half of the Wisconsin game than the Badgers absolutely burying N.C. State. But it was a solid evening all around with one of my go-to basketball watching pals. Thoughts from our trip around the ESPN dial below.

1) Unfortunately, I saw very little of Wisconsin’s blowout win over N.C. State. In the first half, this was due to a flawed video feed (I don’t know if this was unique to Directv, but it was annoying) which forced me to briefly switch over to the standard definition version (the horror!) of ESPN2. I believe things were fixed by the time the second half started, but the game was so out of hand at that point that it seemed prudent to switch over to the Purdue-Virginia Tech game. As that game went into overtime, I think I made the right call.

2) Speaking of Purdue and Virginia Tech going into overtime, I couldn’t believe how easily Purdue got its final basket to tie the game in regulation. If you’re Virginia Tech, the one guy you know that you need to pay attention to is JaJuan Johnson, Purdue’s all-American caliber center who was having a great night. So you’d have to think that Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg was ready to murder someone when his team let Johnson easily catch the ball on the block, leading to a quick and easy basket. I can’t say for sure that Purdue wouldn’t have scored had this not happened, but Virginia Tech sure didn’t make it tough on the Boilermakers.

3) Dez and I found ourselves talking several times about how great it is to watch a game where Bob Knight is doing color commentary. Knight, despite being a jerk to a lot of people over the years, oozes brilliance when talking about basketball and breaks things down so that even the most uninformed viewer can understand them with ease. The high point of last night’s Purdue-Virginia Tech broadcast had to be when, during overtime, Knight used his pen and a piece of white paper to diagram a Purdue offensive set and how Virginia Tech should defend it. In an era of high definition television, the camera was actually focusing on the piece of paper containing the scribblings of the color-commentator. And it was good. I can’t think of a single person other than Knight that could have made something like that compelling.

4) At one point during the Purdue-Virginia Tech game, I couldn’t help but notice that in the camera shot between Brent Musberger and Bob Knight was an unshaven man in Virginia Tech gear who looked like a classic stereotype of a crazy Virginia mountain person. That was amusing in itself, but more entertaining was the fact that he was wearing some sort of headset that would seem to indicate that he was calling the game for some media outlet. Nothing like having the crazy-looking guy as part of your radio team...

5) As part of the pre-game breakdown of Duke-Michigan State, Jay Bilas did an interesting segment where he pointed out all of the elements of Duke's defense in a clip of them defending one possession. At the end of it, after Bilas's talk about the Blue Devils applying ball pressure, constantly communicating, denying ball reversal and doubling players with the ball in the post, Dez looked at me and said "Jay Bilas just described everything that Marquette doesn't do on defense." Dez was my one direct information link to the Marquette-UWM game that I didn't see, so I think it's safe to assume that things didn't go well that night.

6) Kudos to Michigan State, who generally hung with Duke last night, despite my expectation that they would get their doors blown off by the Blue Devils. Michigan State is always a team that gels over the course of a season and which you can count on come tournament time, but I don’t necessarily expect them to win big games early on. Given how well they’re playing already, it could be a very special season for the Spartans.

7) It's nice to see Milwaukee native Korie Lucious playing well for Michigan State, though I have to admit saying to Dez after Lucious's excellent first half "I saw him play in high school plenty of times, and I never expected him to be that good."

8) Well, after the last two days I guess we can stop talking about Harrison Barnes as the nation’s top freshman and start talking about Kyrie Irving. Aside from Irving generally playing better so far, it doesn’t hurt his case that his team is generally looking outstanding and that he dropped 31 points on a top-ten team on national television last night.

9) As Dez pointed out, Doris Burke had better enjoy getting top assignments like reporting at the Duke-Michigan State game, because once football season ends, those top assignments are going to Erin Andrews. In the meantime, I’ll also continue to enjoy nights like these, due to my confusing crush on Ms. Burke.

10) I suppose I should have expected lackluster results from picking games solely based on which school’s campus I enjoyed more, but for the record, I went 6-5 on my picks made on that basis. Not great, but at least I came out up one, just like the Big Ten.

11) There are several conclusions that could be drawn from the fact that the Big Ten, considered by many to be the best conference in college basketball this year, won the ACC-Big Ten Challenge by a mere game and the win in the clinching game came in overtime. That’s about as close as it gets. The conclusion that I choose to draw is that while the Big Ten is excellent this year, the ACC is the most consistently outstanding conference in the country and will hang with any other conference in just about any year. (Now, if they could just get North Carolina going again...)

I've got some non-basketball things to do tonight, so I suspect there will be no update tomorrow. But Friday night there's a good chance of me having my first opportunity to get a look at some high school ball (either in person or on television, as Time Warner Sports is broadcasting what is sure to be an interesting Marquette-Menomonee Falls game). Here's looking forward to that.

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