Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Marquette vs. UMBC: Watching The Good Half

Last night’s Marquette vs. UMBC game was a pretty good example of what happens when I don’t have tickets to a game that’s airing on Time Warner Sports. Because my TV service provider is Directv, I don’t have home access to Marquette games that air on Time Warner Sports and must find an alternate way to watch the game. For games like UMBC, this typically means heading to my gym to feign working out so that I can watch the game. This happens because a) my gym has Time Warner, and b) it would be near impossible to find someone to go to a bar with me to watch a terrible non-conference game. So in a weird way, terrible Marquette non-conference games kind of keep me healthy.

The original plan for last night’s game was to watch the first half, since a game against UMBC was bound to be a blowout. But because even a trip to the gym usually involves some laziness on my part, I procrastinated and didn’t make it over until the second half. This was a lucky error on my part, since Marquette was clinging to just a four point lead at the half. The second half (or as I like to call it, the “good half”) saw the Golden Eagles rout their opponents en route to a 79-46 win. Here are the thoughts on what I saw:

1) There was some minor interest by many last night in seeing how UMBC center Brett Roseboro would look. Watching Roseboro rack up his 2 points, 4 rebounds and 5 fouls in 20 minutes, it seems unlikely that he ever would have seen the floor had he come to Marquette. I’m certain that there are plenty of Marquette fans this morning reiterating their praise for Buzz Williams for letting Roseboro out of his commitment during the summer before his freshman year so that he could go to a school where he could actually challenge for playing time. I still can’t join in that praise (and I’ve written more about that here). While I’ll concede that it would have been cruel to hold Roseboro in a situation where he couldn’t compete, the right thing would have been to properly evaluate Roseboro’s talent months earlier and not force him to pass up other opportunities because he was relying on his opportunity at Marquette.

2) Big kudos to the super-fan in the student section last night that kept getting TV time during timeouts due to his blue and gold Mexican wrestling mask. Your attire was impressive even without headgear, but the mask put it over the top. That’s solid crazy fan work if I’ve ever seen it, so keep up the good work.

3) Dear Davante Gardner: While I love watching you casually drop nearly every basketball that you touch through the hoop, and I think your twitter handle is both awesome and accurate (@iGetBuckets_54), if you continue loudly yelling in hopes of drawing a foul every time you shoot a layup, I may start losing my positive opinion of you. Just play the damn game and stop trying to sucker the refs into giving you a foul shot after your baskets.

4) One of my favorite fan message board discussions of every year is speculation about whether whatever walk-on is on the team will earn playing time and contribute. Ninety percent of the time, the answer is a simple “no.” So far this year, Jake Thomas has resoundingly secured his place in the 10% of walk-ons that are relevant. He looked outstanding last night, calmly knocking down threes, and using ball fakes to get past his defenders when the caught on to his shooting ability. Some of Thomas’s playing time is undoubtedly due to the minutes that Marquette has to fill because of the absence of Todd Mayo (and at the moment, Vander Blue, as well), but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s giving the team good minutes. Between his performance against UMBC and his big shot near the end of the Butler game, Thomas is off to as good a start as one could hope for from a walk-on.

5) Jim McIlvaine seems like a guy that I’d enjoy hanging out with, though I don’t love him as an announcer on either radio or TV. He’s too much of a homer (kind of ironic, given that the nickname of his radio partner is “Homer”), and his attempts at humor, while often funny, usually seem forced. That said, I typically enjoy him more on TV (where he was last night), where he tends to be more subdued and less likely to try and work in cheesy exclamations that he’s been saving up for particular moments. Last night’s McIlvaine high point was probably when he and his broadcast partner were discussing the great players from McIlvaine’s high school alma mater, Racine St. Catherine’s, that had played at Marquette. McIlvaine’s self-deprecating acknowledgment that the he was not even the best center named “Jim” from his own high school due to the success of fellow St. Catherine’s alum Jim Chones was particularly amusing (and based on what I know about Chones, correct).

6) As I have discussed with friends, last year I had Juan Anderson slated as the Golden Eagle most likely to transfer next. Based on the combination of how solid he’s looked this year, and the fact that he’s got two more years to continue improving, I’m now thinking of him as the Golden Eagle most likely to get drafted next. Anderson has been my happiest surprise so far.

7) I get that Chris Otule has overcome the absence of one eye and three season-ending injuries, but we’re six games into the season and I’m already getting tired of announcers talking about how inspiring he is. I think Otule is a good guy, and I commend him for working hard to return from all of his injuries, but you’ll excuse me if I’m not overly inspired by his ability to recover.

Back to the TV tonight for some ACC-Big Ten Challenge action before I actually attend some ACC-Big Ten Challenge action on Wednesday. I suspect that Indiana-North Carolina will not disappoint. Enjoy the games!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Senior Moment

In addition to today’s thoughts on the Marquette game, I’d like to add quick note on the Duke-Kentucky game. I could spend lots of time (if I had said time) talking about the ridiculous athleticism of Kentucky, or the fact that Duke’s Ryan Kelly is underrated because his last name is not Plumlee, but the thing that really stuck out to me last night was player introductions. In one of the greatest moves of overcompensation that I’ve ever seen, Kentucky’s Julius Mays was introduced not as a senior, but as a "grad student." I’ve since checked the Kentucky basketball website, and indeed, on the team roster he is also listed as a grad student. This move feels like an obvious and pathetic attempt to deflect from Kentucky’s status as the place where a new crop of all-American freshmen go each year to spend a season before they can head to the NBA.

Kentucky forcing every announcer and publication to refer to Mays as a grad student reminds me of a common experience that I used to have in college. Every semester I’d start new classes, and there would usually be that part where the professor or TA had us go around and introduce ourselves by stating our name, major and year in school. Most normal people would say something like "I’m Tim, and I‘m a junior majoring in economics." But every so often there was that one guy who’d instead say "I’m Mario, I'm a biology major, and I'm a second-year student with junior standing." And invariably the next thoughts going through my head would be "Congrats on having lots of AP credits. Just tell us you’re a sophomore or a junior. Explicitly pointing out that you have more credits than most of the students that started school at the same time as you doesn’t make me think you’re smarter–it makes me think you’re an insecure jerk." Much like the info that Mario in English 205 has a higher class standing than usual due to his ability amass credits, the info that Mays is a grad student is irrelevant to me. All I care about is that he’s in his fourth year of basketball eligibility. We commonly refer to that as a senior. Let’s not get cute about it.

So Kentucky, please know that when you note that Julius Mays is a grad student, it doesn’t make me forget that every year you have four high school all-American basketball players who don’t plan on playing more than a year in college and will probably never attend a second semester class. It simply makes me think you’re ashamed of who you are. With that in mind, let’s start calling Mays what his is for basketball purposes–a senior.

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Marquette vs. Southeastern Louisiana: The Game I Can't Understand

I only watched the first half of the Marquette’s close call against Southeastern Louisiana last night. This was partially due to the fact that the game was on Time Warner Sports, I’m not a Time Warner subscriber, and consequently, my only way of seeing the game was to head to the gym (while I have decent lungs, I’m incapable of working out for the duration of an entire college basketball game). It was also partially due to the outstanding slate of games that was on ESPN last night to cap its annual 24-hours of basketball event. Why watch Marquette-Southeastern Louisiana when Duke vs. Kentucky is on?

So what happened that allowed Southeastern Louisiana, a team that was utterly destroyed by Wisconsin on Sunday, to stick around within two points of Marquette until the final three minutes of the game? Based on the first half, I honestly can’t tell you. This was one of the strangest halves of basketball that I’ve seen, as I could not pinpoint the problem. Marquette’s talent advantage was readily apparent. And when one team has such an advantage in ability, there are a few typical ways in which the inferior team can hang in the game. The most obvious is that they get hot from three point range and continue firing up threes as often as possible (the "Athletes in Action" strategy, if you will). This was not happening for Southeastern Louisiana, whose shooting was mediocre. The next option is for the inferior team to get a lot of second chance opportunities. This also was not happening either, as Marquette was doing a good job of cleaning up on the boards. The final thing that I look for is defensive lapses by the superior team, allowing easy baskets to their opponent. This element was also missing, as Southeast Louisiana was having great difficulty getting penetration, and consequently, spent most of the half taking mid-to-long range jump shots (and as noted earlier, they were not hitting at some sort of amazing rate, either). The Marquette defense largely forced the opponent to do exactly what it wanted them to do.

As much as I’d like to sit here today and tell you that Marquette needs to get its act together and start playing better basketball, I’m sort of at a loss for what I’d tell the team it needs to improve on. Of course, that’s undoubtedly why I’m sitting behind a computer recounting my thoughts from last night’s game rather than actually coaching basketball. Here’s hoping that Buzz Williams has a few more constructive thoughts than I do. I’m thinking that he probably does.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Weekend Hodgepodge

Lots of stuff going on this weekend, between Marquette’s non-opening game debacle on Friday and a trio of games for Wisconsin (vs. Southeastern Louisiana), Marquette (vs. Colgate) and UWM (at South Carolina) on Sunday. Here are a few random points on all of the above:

1)  Well, it turns out that the concerns that I expressed about playing a basketball game on an aircraft carrier in the super-humid city of Charleston, South Carolina were well-founded. I won't say that I predicted the cancellation of the Ohio State-Marquette game, because I didn't. I foolishly assumed that the organizers of the game had anticipated the moisture and come up with a plan to make the court playable. Shame on me for thinking any actual engineering was involved. It's kind of pathetic when a dude who's been to the ocean a couple of times has put more thought into the issues involved in a game like this than the actual organizers. I still think that the aircraft carrier games were a cool idea, but after two cancellations this weekend, and stories now leaking out about moisture issues at last year's seemingly well run game between Michigan State and North Carolina, I'd say it's time to leave this idea in the past. A beautiful background is nice, but it’s not worth a guy potentially slipping and shredding his ACL.

2)  While gathered at a bar with friends watching Buzz Williams and the rest of the Marquette team and staff furiously wiping down their game floor on Friday night, I overheard several people near me say things like "Look at the Ohio State team just standing around while everyone from Marquette is actually working to try and make this game happen. I'm so proud to be a Marquette grad right now." While I understand that sentiment, I'm not sure I agree with it. The problem with condensation on the game floor was not going to be fixed by just wiping it up, and that was obvious to anyone who took more than five seconds to think about it. It's not as if someone simply spilled a bucket of water on the court and a one-time mopping could clean it up--the water was hovering in the air. The fact that Thad Matta and his team weren't on their knees rubbing towels on the floor didn't make me think that they were prima donnas or that they didn't want to play the game. It merely told me that they were smart enough to recognize a lost cause when they saw one.

3)  South Carolina coach Frank Martin’s bow tie continues to be a ridiculous look for him. I like bow ties, but only certain guys can pull them off. Frank Martin has neither the build (his torso is too large, dwarfing the bow tie) nor the personality (bow ties are not for guys who look constantly perturbed) to be a bow tie wearer. I’m not quite sure what Martin looked more like in a bow tie: a second-rate Bond villain, or an the least enthusiastic vaudeville performer ever.

4)  UWM should start looking more to the juco ranks if they can keep bringing in players like their all-juco backcourt of Jordan Aaron and Bobo Niang. While heading into the year the Panthers clearly had depth in the frontcourt, their newfound starting backcourt is looking like a strength. Jordan Aaron was borderline unstoppable during the final five minutes of yesterday’s first half. Rob Jeter must be getting excited about being able to throw Paris Gulley into the mix with Aaron and Niang once Gulley returns from injury.

5)  One of the great highlights of watching the UWM-South Carolina game yesterday was hearing a consistently irate South Carolina fan in the background of the action. There’s nothing better than when an irrationally angry fan gets seated next to a microphone. I wasn’t able to pick out all of the inane angry rants that this fan was hurling at the refs, but I did hear a number of them. My favorite ridiculous taunt was “Why don’t you go back to reffing the NFL!” I’d bet good money that at some point this guy pulled out the old “Hey ref! Get off your knees–you’re blowing the game!” That’s usually the sad height of comedy for guys that spend most of their time at a game berating the refs.

6)  I heard my favorite announcing quote in some time during yesterday’s UWM-South Carolina game. I had to rewind the moment on my DVR to transcribe the exact quote, but it was worth it to hear the color commentator say the following: "You know, in today's college basketball world, we see a lot of coaches playing three and four guards. Very few post guys floating around out there, and if they are, they're usually 6'7" and 6'8". I would have to say that, certainly, Demetrius Harris would qualify as one of those low post guys.” I can’t think of the last time someone used more words to tell me less information.

7)  I don’t want to take away anything from UWM’s accomplishments yesterday, as they did go on the road and manage to take a major conference team to overtime after dominating them in the first half (UWM led by 15 at halftime). And that’s awesome. But I’d also be remiss if I didn’t point out that South Carolina finished close to the bottom of the SEC last year.

8)  So it appears that in my great telecommunications shift of 2012, I’ve managed to cobble together a situation in which I don’t have access to ESPN3. This was a tad disheartening yesterday when I furiously tried to pull up the Wisconsin-Southeastern Louisiana game to no avail. I’m already considering a few work-arounds, since I can’t live in a world where I don’t have video access to the only games that Evan Anderson will play in.

9)  While I didn’t have ESPN3, it was nice of ESPNU to cut into the Wisconsin game during breaks in action in the other games that it was showing on Sunday. Perhaps the happiest sight of the day for me was Mike Bruesewitz in uniform. It’s always nice to see a return from injury, but Bruesewitz’s injury sounded so gruesome and he sounds like such a good guy that this return felt extra good to hear about.

10)  The news that Duje Dukan is redshirting this year for the Badgers was surprising, but I suppose it makes some sense. While Dukan put some of the blame on an early fall bout with mono hindering his conditioning, I would have to think an even bigger factor is that there are three senior frontcourt players clearly ahead of Dukan in the rotation right now. There’s going to be a lot more opportunity available upon the graduation of Ryan Evans, Mike Bruesewitz and Jared Berggren. And given that Dukan looked on the verge of gaining some minimal playing time near the very end of last season, playing his last two seasons without three firmly entrenched veterans ahead of him could be a very good thing for him (and the Badgers). Here’s hoping for the best.

11)  While I didn’t catch much of the Marquette-Colgate game on Sunday afternoon, a friend did text me from the game to note that the halftime entertainment for the game was the Jesse White Tumbling Team. Nice to see Marquette coming out of the gates strong with the halftime acts this year.

12)  Also nice to see solid games from the Marquette players that I typically have tempered expectations for. Juan Anderson seemed to be scoring every time that I saw him, which was nice for a guy that I’d pegged for transferring out due to lack of playing time at one point last year. And Jamil Wilson had a rare good game that I was paying attention to. Wilson’s talent is undeniable, but for some reason he’s one of those guys that always seems to only come up big when I manage to miss a game.

That's it for now.  I'm off to order the sports package from my satellite provider so as not to miss any weird games now that hoops season is finally upon us!

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Thursday, November 08, 2012

Thing's I'm Looking Forward To: Marquette and Ohio State on an Aircraft Carrier (With Bonus Wisconsin Exhibition Thoughts)

I’m flip-flopping my originally announced schedule a bit, and saving my post on why I’m excited for Sam Dekker’s college debut tomorrow. Why? Because I watched Wisconsin’s exhibition game against UW-Oshkosh last night and would like to update my originally written thoughts to reflect actually seeing him in a game. So today’s post is primarily about why I’m excited for tomorrow night’s Marquette-Ohio State game on the deck of the USS Yorktown. But before I get to that, a few abbreviated thoughts on last night’s Wisconsin exhibition:

1) I broke down and spent $14.95 for a subscription to the Big Ten Network’s online package so that I could see this game (and a couple others) online, as that is the only way to see a few of this year’s Wisconsin games live. The verdict? It’s not terrible if you’re sitting alone and watching on your computer (aside from the persistent shameful feeling that you’re a loser watching a meaningless basketball game alone on your computer). But if you’re at all interested in hooking your computer up to your big screen TV and watching with other people, you’re not going to be happy. I’ve played games of Tecmo Bowl that were more graphically appealing than the blurry, pixilated mess that was on my TV last night.

2) The guy that stood out for me while watching last night was George Marshall, which is good, because George Marshall was the guy that I was hoping would stand out. I’m as upset as anyone about Josh Gasser going down for the year (Gasser tweeted a photo of himself watching the game online from his hospital bed last night–it was positively heart-breaking.), but at least Marshall and Traevon Jackson appear very ready to go.

3) More tomorrow on this topic, but Sam Dekker looked exactly like the coaches have been saying he has all pre-season: good, but with some freshman tendencies. I’ll gladly take that.

4) Evan Anderson took a three-point shot last night. Chew on that for a moment.
Actually, chew on that for awhile, because those are my minimal game thoughts. As promised, I’ll close with my reasons for excitement over tomorrow’s Marquette-Ohio State game:

Though it sort of embarrasses me to admit it, I think this whole trend of playing games on aircraft carriers is kind of cool. I was laying sick on my couch last year when North Carolina and Michigan State opened the season playing on the USS Carl Vinson, and it was a thoroughly awesome TV event. So it enthuses me even more to see Marquette taking on a fun-to-watch Ohio State game to start this year’s season. Making things particularly intriguing for me is the fact that I’ve actually visited the USS Yorktown a few times (I’m no military enthusiast, but when you’re growing up and your family refuses to vacation anywhere other than just outside of Charleston, South Carolina, you’re going to get to see every tourist attraction at some point).

Of course, my visits to the USS Yorktown have placed a whole bunch of logistical questions into my head. How do they cram a basketball court and a bunch of fans onto a deck that ultimately isn’t that huge? How uncomfortable is it for the players getting to the court, given that the USS Yorktown was built with a bunch of 5'7" sailors in mind, not a bunch of wide-shouldered 6'8" power forwards? What are they using for locker rooms, for that matter? And how in God’s name are they going to keep moisture from condensing on the court, given that Charleston is the most humid city I’ve been to in my entire life (though I’ll concede that this issue was on my mind during last year’s game in San Diego, and they somehow pulled it off just fine).

Thankfully, though, I’m not planning the event or attending, so I don’t have to fix any of those concerns. I just have to watch on TV as a game gets played in a beautiful setting.

Now’s normally the part when I’d bid you farewell for the day and tell you to enjoy the game tonight, but seeing as I’m a day ahead, why don’t you just watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia this evening. It won’t have the athleticism of a college basketball game, but you’ll probably laugh more.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Things I'm Looking Forward To: An Early Start to the High School Season

This season, the WIAA state tournament is being held March 7-9. At first glance, that seems unimportant, but to an obsessive basketball fan in Wisconsin, this is huge. Usually, the WIAA tourney coincides with the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. This year, the WIAA tourney is taking place two weeks prior to the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament. I have some friends that will tell you that it’s better when both tournaments are the same weekend, since there’s a certain joy in watching the Milwaukee Vincents and Madison Memorials of the world and then dashing to a bar to check in on college scores. And those friends are wrong. All that happens when you’ve got two tournaments going on at the same time is you can’t watch one of them. Shift the WIAA tournament to another weekend and voila! You’ve got another weekend of basketball watching. That’s a much better result than having one weekend where you’re overextended and can’t possibly watch everything you want to see.

Aside from that obvious point, there are three other things that make this shift perfect. One, the WIAA tournament is being moved back not just one week, but two. Thus, not only is there no conflict with the NCAA tournament, there’s also no conflict with the week when the major NCAA conferences have their tournaments. So mark down three great weekends of hoops in March. Two, because the WIAA tournament is taking place two weeks earlier than usual, we get high school basketball two weeks earlier than usual. I’ll never object to that. And on a third, more personal note, because some of my friends have insisted on perpetually having our annual fantasy baseball draft on the weekend of the NCAA tournament, I’ll finally have a championship Saturday where I can watch high school games instead of spending eight hours at a bar trying to pretend that I know something about baseball.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

UW-Milwaukee vs. UW-Parkside: The Season Begins

The season officially got underway for me last night, as my friend Dez and I (our other fellow-season ticket holders were tied up with other things last evening) headed down to the Klotsche Center to watch UWM take on Division II UW-Parkside in an exhibition game. The game was more hotly contested than expected, with Parkside jumping out to a 15-point lead at the half. The Panthers clawed their way back into the game with pressure defense in the second half, however, and pulled out a hard-fought 68-67 win. I’m unconcerned with that outcome, though, as UWM generally looked solid once they shook off the slow start. Now I’m ready for some regular season action. For the time being, though, thoughts on last night are below:

1) I got everything that I was looking for from the first Klotsche Center experience of the year. I was able to park on the street for free, at the entrance to the gym they took the old-school step of ripping tickets rather than scanning them, and the turnout was actually pretty good for a Monday night exhibition game. Oh, and I nearly got trampled by the team running out to the floor while walking to my seat after grabbing a roster. I think I’m going to like the Klotsche Center.

2) Great uniforms all-around last night. I liked the boldness of the UWM home gold unis, and will definitely purchase a jersey, should the bookstore ever begin selling such items again in the future. As for Parkside, they wore the standard 2012 baggy shorts, but their scoop-neck jerseys looked like they’d been transported straight from 1989. And for the record, I do not consider that a bad thing.

3) UWM had a big hole to fill at the point guard spot with the graduation of Kaylon Williams, arguably the team’s best player last season. I’m happy to say that the point guard spot looks to be in good hands with junior college transfer Jordan Aaron. A completely different player than Williams, Aaron is a small, quick player who likes to get into the lane. He also displayed a nice shooting touch last night, and sealed the game with some clutch free throws at the end. If last night was any indicator, Panther fans are going to really enjoy Aaron for the next two years.

4) I was also impressed with freshman Austin Arians, who received a smattering of minutes off the bench. It didn’t hurt that Arians’ first minute of action saw him involved in a Panther fastbreak play that involved two perfect passes, a dunk, and was so smooth that it looked like it was something out of a Harlem Globetrotters routine. Arians’ biggest weakness? He has a nervous habit of constantly shifting his mouth guard around, which makes him look kind of dumb at times.

5) The Panthers’ top returning player is arguably James Haarsma, who probably only played 15-20 minutes last night. While a lot of people left worried about the near loss to a Division II school last night, I left thinking that Haarsma’s lack of minutes last night was probably just an indicator that Rob Jeter was playing around and trying to figure out his rotation.

6) The Parkside roster is a curious one. Parkside is the state’s only NCAA Division II school, so one would think that it would be a haven for Wisconsin kids who couldn’t quite secure a Division I scholarship. In fact, there are only three Wisconsin natives on the roster, with the bulk of the team made up of players from just across the border in Illinois. And then there’s a guy from Maine and a dude from Arizona. I’m still scratching my head at how they ended up at Parkside, a school whose existence I was completely unaware of when I was a high school senior living just 45 minutes away.

7) It was five minutes into the game when my Dez spotted a guy that we quickly realized was likely to keep us entertained all year. He was alone behind the basket angrily yelling at UWM players to pick up their effort. His pleas were very noticeable in the small confines of the Klotsche Center. Throughout the game, he vacillated between waving his arms to pump up the crowd (undeterred by the fact that no one was paying attention to him) and checking something on the iPad that he was carrying around. There’s going to be some high emotion coming from this guy all year, and I’m glad I’m going to be there to see a lot of it.

8) I’m not quite sure what to say about the alternate uniforms that UWM’s dance team changed into for its halftime performance last night. They looked sort of unfinished, and I felt like I saw a lot more of the members of the dance team than I was supposed to. Not that I’m complaining, but I think we’ve hit a new level for revealing college dance team uniforms.

9) One thing that I’m glad made the move from the U.S. Cellular Arena to the Klotsche Center with the Panthers is public address announcer Bob Brainerd. For years, I felt like Brainerd was probably a guy that took himself a bit too seriously for a moderately successful local sports media personality. But with every overly bombastic announcement of Christian Wolf’s name, I’m starting to understand that when we laugh at Brainerd, he’s in on the joke with us.

10) The winner of the halftime lightning contest was dressed like my best friend in second grade always was. Kudos to Bob Brainerd for noticing this as well, and offering up a " nice sweater" comment over the public address system while announcing the victory.

11) It’s going to be tough to get an earlier foul-out this season than Parkside’s Kevin Senechalle, who picked up his fifth at the 16 minute timeout in the second half.

12) I’m encouraged that this year’s UWM team will be more exciting to watch than recent past versions, mostly because half of the team appears to have no regard for their own safety while taking the ball strong to the hoop.

13) A few years back when Popeye’s Fried Chicken sponsored the Panthers, there was an entertaining promotion where if UWM managed to dunk the ball five times in a game, everyone was entitled to a free meal at Popeye’s. While that deal is long since dead, I’m pleased to report that a similar deal was in place last night. Four Panther dunks was to result in free chips and queso at any local Qdoba. The dunk threshold was not met last night (the team stalled at two), though I’m not overly disappointed. I kind of suspect that if I ever took my ticket stub to any Qdoba other than the one on Oakland Avenue near UWM the day after a UWM win that they’d just look at me like I was making that promotion up.

14) I’m going to admit to not even noticing that Demetrius Harris was on the Panther roster last year. He’s a starter this year, though, and is the most impressive physical specimen on the team. He led the team in points last night (despite an awful foul shooting evening), and I’m confident that he’ll lead the team in rebounding this season. Unfortunately, that rebounding prediction is only partially a compliment, as part of Harris’s big rebounding numbers will be due to the fact that he tends to get lots of rebounds off of his own misses.

15) Seeing as Parkside played well last night, it seems only fair to credit its top players. Forward Jeremy Saffold appeared to be the most talented guy on the roster, though teammate Conrad Krutwig had a big scoring night and was the game’s high scorer. A senior with a receding hairline, next year Krutwig is likely to be a dominant rec league player once his college career is over. His combination of height, youth, and crafty veteran moves will ensure that he’s rightfully first picked in virtually every pickup game that he plays in over the next five years.

16) After the game, Dez and I headed to a nearby bar for a post-game beer. At the bar, we encountered two older gentlemen who had been sitting near us at the game who asked us what the outcome was, as they had left early. Two thoughts on this. One, it was nice to see future me and Dez at the bar. Two, perhaps there’s something to learn from future me and Dez, as they had the good sense to leave an exhibition game early so that they could get to the bar.

One game is in the books, and we’ve got plenty more to watch this week. It’s good to have hoops back. Back tomorrow with another thing that I’m looking forward to this year...


Monday, November 05, 2012

Things I'm Looking Forward To: UWM's Return to the Klotsche Center

This year, UWM has made the shift back to campus, and instead of playing at the U.S. Cellular arena, will be playing all home games at the Klotsche Center.  Before I get to why I like this move, let’s get the negatives out of the way (and there are lots of them). The Panthers were more prominent and accessible to all Milwaukee folks when they were downtown at the U.S. Cellular Arena.  A bit of legitimacy feels lost, since the Panthers go from playing at a major sports complex to what feels like an oversized high school gym (indeed, I’ve been to a new high school fieldhouse or two that would rival the Klotsche).  Putting games on the UWM campus means parking hassles and a lack of pre and post-game entertainment options for fans.  Finally, while this move is presumably aimed, in part, at making games more accessible to UWM student fans, the culture of UWM has never been such that hordes of students are likely to be rushing over from Sandburg Hall to watch a game just because it’s easy to get to.

Wow, that was a lot of negatives.

So then, why do I like the move?  I’ll give you three big reasons why:

1) Games at the Klotsche Center are cool. 

Last year was my first year as a UWM season-ticket holder.  Of the games that my friends and I attended, one of the most memorable was a blowout win by the Panthers over Nebraska-Omaha, a team transitioning to Division I status.  The game itself?  It was pretty dreadful. But the opportunity to sit only a few feet from the action was outstanding.  If you amortize the cost of my season ticket over the entire season, my admission to that game cost under $4.  Nonetheless, I still found myself sitting in a location where I could read the opposing coach’s facial expressions, and hear players’ family members yelling words of encouragement. I dare you to show me another Division I venue where you can get that close to the center of things for around the cost of a concession stand hot dog (and not one of those fancy hot dogs with lots of toppings on it, either).

2) The Klotsche Center is currently a more appropriate home for UWM. 

Back in 1998, when UWM moved from the U.S. Cellular Arena to the Klotsche Center, I thought the move was brilliant. Then in 2003, when the Panthers abandoned the Klotsche Center and moved back to the U.S. Cellular Arena, I praised this move, as well.  These feelings were not as inconsistent as they may seem, once you consider history.  In 1998, UWM was a losing team struggling to get anyone to head downtown to watch them.  It became ridiculous playing to 800 fans in a 10,000+ seat arena.  And rebuilding in an intimate gym on campus where excitement could quickly become infectious was a great idea.  In 2001 I had the pleasure of attending UWM’s near upset of Wisconsin at the Klotsche Center, and I have no doubt in my mind that one of the reasons that the Panthers nearly stole a game that day was that Wisconsin had never before had to deal with playing in front of 3,500 excited fans crammed into a tiny gym. I’ve rarely felt that type of electricity in a crowd.  Sitting in my Badger fleece, even I nearly started cheering for the Panthers.

Of course, that 2001 game also demonstrated that UWM had reached a point where it was about to the outgrow the Klotsche Center.  When the Panthers headed back to the U.S. Cellular Arena in 2003, it was no longer a 3-24 team that had lost everyone’s interest.  Instead, it was a winning, up-tempo, exciting team that was guided by Bruce Pearl, a tireless promoter that was constantly working to get fans to games.  Going to watch Pearl-led teams was like going to a party, and that party could not be contained in a tiny on-campus gym. UWM peaked with a Sweet Sixteen appearance in 2005, and for the first time in my entire life, I watched Milwaukeans get excited about something at UWM other than the architecture program.  It would have been a disservice to both the fans and the program to keep the basketball team hidden away on campus while people, for arguably the first time ever, wanted to watch games.  

And now?  We’re again in uncharted territory.  Unlike the move in 1998, the Panthers aren’t a losing program slinking out of downtown so that they can rebuild on campus.  But as anyone who has attended a UWM game or two in the past 2-3 years could tell you, the fact that UWM fields a competent basketball team was doesn’t mean that it was filling the stands at the U.S. Cellular Arena.  The simple truth is, games are not as exciting to attend as they were during the Bruce Pearl era.  Rob Jeter can deliver a solid team, but he can’t deliver a party, too. And if that means that UWM is struggling to draw more than 2,000 fans per game, then why not give those 2,000 fans a chance to sit in a smaller gym, where their excitement stands a better chance of becoming contagious again?

3) The move back to campus implies some level of commitment to building an on-campus arena.

The moment that the move back to the Klotsche Center hit the news, my first thought was “This must mean that UWM is actually getting serious about the idea of building an on-campus basketball arena.”

That’s a weird jump in logic, but I base it on two key factors.  First, UWM recently hired former Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger to head up the UWM athletic department.  Geiger’s tenure at Ohio State coincided with an inordinate number of athletic facility construction projects.  While Geiger is 73 years old and only signed on to serve as AD for one year, there would be few people better positioned to get the ball rolling on a major athletic facility construction project.

Secondly, the Horizon League, granted UWM a waiver of a conference bylaw requiring that the home basketball facilities of each member school seat no less than 5,000 people.  For a league like the Horizon, which is constantly fighting for prominence, it would be counter-intuitive, absent a strong reason, to excuse a member school from a key rule aimed at ensuring high-quality facilities.  This is particularly true in the case of UWM, which had been playing its games at one of the league’s top arenas.  Playing at the Klotsche does not further the interests of the conference.  Playing at a cool new arena would.  Thus, I refuse to believe that the Horizon League would grant UWM a waiver on its arena rules without some type of assurance that UWM is actively pursuing or investigating plans to build an on-campus basketball facility. And I’d love to see a true on campus home for the UWM basketball program.  Given that the only other recent home options have been an arena which the NBA abandoned 25 years ago, and the student rec center, I can’t help but think that a new basketball facility would be a big step forward for the Panthers.

Here’s looking forward to kicking off the season tonight.  See you at the Klotsche Center!

Friday, November 02, 2012

The Season Is Nearly Upon Us!

It’s amazing how these things sneak up on you, but it appears that the 2012-2013 season is just about upon us.  Next Monday night I’ll be making my way to my first live game of the year, and next Friday Marquette kicks off the season in grand fashion by playing on an aircraft carrier.  And an early start to this year’s high school season means that we’ll have more basketball than we can handle before ESPN’s Feast Week even begins.  I don’t think I’m alone in my excitement over all of these things.

With the season coming up, one of the most common questions that I get from acquaintances that I run into is “Are you still doing that basketball blog thing?”  It’s always sort of tough for me to answer.  I do still post thoughts from time to time, but by and large, I abandoned regular blogging 2-3 years ago.  It’s not for lack of desire (watching basketball and writing are still two of my favorite pastimes), but I simply no longer have the amount of time necessary to watch a basketball game and form a page worth of coherent thoughts about it every night.  Usually I just end up telling people that the blog is mostly part of my past, but that I haven’t had the heart to totally kill it yet.

And while I’d like to tell you that everything has changed this year, the truth is that my efforts are likely to remain about where they have been for the past 2-3 seasons.  That is to say, sporadic and random.  Part of what drove me years ago when I was doing daily updates was knowing that every day a handful of people like me were sitting in their offices and coming to my blog to read one or two interesting things about basketball before starting their work day in earnest.  But when I couldn’t do daily updates anymore (and I simply can’t), there was no reason for those that I had entertained to check in every day, and I no longer felt beholden to anyone.  Oddly, being 100% committed to something is easier for me, because I know exactly what I need to do.  Only being 50% invested is tougher, because it offers opportunities to slack off (as I have in past years, missing opportunities to write about some great games and events that I’ve seen).

I should probably get to a point, though, after that overly self-important digression.  I still plan on checking in on the blog from time to time.  Next week, in fact, I’m going old school and posting thoughts every day (mostly because I’ve had a chance to bank a few things over the past week or two).  The week will examine four of the things that I’m most looking forward to this season in a series that I’m creatively titling “Things I’m Looking Forward To,” with a brief interruption on Tuesday for my thoughts on the first UWM Exhibition of the year.  Here’s my tentative schedule of posts for next week:

Monday: Things I’m Looking Forward To: UWM’s Return to the Klotsche Center
Tuesday: Game 1: Thoughts on the UWM vs. UW-Parkside Exhibition
Wednesday: Things I’m Looking Forward To: An Early Start to the High School Season
Thursday: Things I’m Looking Forward To: The College Debut of Sam Dekker
Friday: Things I’m Looking Forward To: Marquette and Ohio State on an Aircraft Carrier

After that, if something huge happens, I’ll share thoughts.  And if I happen to be at a game where a mascot does something that merits recognition of his or her excellence, rest assured that I’ll check in so that others can hear about it.  But I’m realistic enough to know that I won’t be here daily, no matter how much I want to be.  And that’s probably a good thing.

Here’s looking forward to a great start to the season next week.  Happy hoops watching!

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