The State of the Valley

6 12 2011

8-7, not quite the Valley heyday, but a winning record against BCS-conference foes is a great step for a conference who expects an abundance of early-season success.

Once considered the hands-down top mid-major conference in the country, the MVC’s recent plight as a single-bid league in the NCAA tournament could finally end in 2011-2012.

Proving the conference’s worth has become the focus for MVC and league commissioner Doug Elgin (good interview in the Examiner from August)

“I think our people understand that they simply have to prove they are worthy of an NCAA Tournament at-large bid, and they cannot accomplish that without playing strong non-conference schedules.  Our teams have to be better than teams from higher-profile leagues, and the best way to make that point it is to schedule strategically… early-season tournaments provide the best opportunity to play NCAA Tournament-caliber teams at neutral sites.”

Solid wins (WSU over UNLV, Evansville over Butler, etc) and a combined 46-23 non-conference clip (through Dec.4), may just push the Missouri Valley conference back toward mid-2000 prominence.

Creighton and Wichita State are carrying the torch, but look who is making an appearance in the top-five of CBS’s early season RPI Report (Sorry Panther fans, but I’m not sure it’s quite deserved).

Irrespective of your feelings on early-season ranks (please see BCS issues), there’s little question that the powers-that-be in the national media are starting to take notice.

Heck, Valley-friendly media like Joseph Book are already throwing out Doug McDermott’s name for All-American contention (Joseph Book’s MVC ranking at the Examiner).

And it’s hard to argue. Not only is Dougie McD in the top-5 in scoring, but his leadership and clutch play have Creighton in the national rankings.

Where the final record falls as conference season draws closer remains to be seen.

Most likely, Evansville will not be able to put-away fourth-ranked North Carolina on the road.

(8-8).

But I do expect UNI to take care of business at home against the lowly Hawkeye (5-3 against a very weak schedule).

9-8.

Missouri State hosting an Oklahoma State team yet to garner a solid win deems this one a toss-up, slight edge going to MSU at home.

10-8. At worst. 9-9 (a vast improvement over last year’s 11-22 mark).

Give the commissioner and the league’s coaches some credit. This year’s MVC is playing at a higher level and certainly giving fans around the Midwest cause for excitement.

Now if only we can Jim Nantz on board…





Weekend Weddings

12 04 2010

Congratulations to Brian and Rebecca Steenhoek! Affectionately referred to as Hook, Brian’s coaching prowess was instrumental in our team success in 2007-2008. Well, maybe coaching prowess is not the best description. At least the comic relief, endless stories, and good-natured ribbings certainly helped. In a beautiful wedding ceremony in Des Moines on Saturday, Hook and Becca readily exchanged vows. Congrats again to the happy couple and best wishes.

Now back to me. The whirlwind basketball season was exciting but the college season is finally over. Duke triumphs over Butler on the men’s side. UConn wins their 78th consecutive game and second straight national title on the women’s. As my blog has undergone this recent revival basketball has been our focus. And let me tell you, its been a lot of fun.

I’ve learned about myself, about the game, enjoyed constant banter with some friends, took a few potentially unjustifiable shots (maybe Brent, I dunno), and had some interaction with readers. Its been great. But where do we go from here? Honestly, it doesn’t matter. I found something I enjoy. A release. A way to share things about myself to anyone who will listen.

As spring begins to fade into summer, I can’t help but be exhilarated. This time of year is always one of the most exciting. March boasts March Madness. April introduces the NBA and NHL Playoffs (and seriously is there anything better than watching playoff hockey? Especially considering the Red Wings are on a tear, I’m excited). At the same time, baseball fans excitedly weigh their team’s chances. And NFL fans hope their teams can improve in the draft.

I don’t know where things will be going from here, but there’s plenty of material out there. As I mentioned in a previous post, we’re going to see if we can move into some podcasting. More guests. More sports. More fun.

Though I can’t always promise expertise (see my Final Four picks), I’ll do my best to keep things interesting. Interaction and participation always help. If there are any suggestions, a person you’d like to hear from, or something you’d like me to discuss please help me to keep this going.





What. A. Game.

6 04 2010

I know its been a couple days and I didn’t even come out with a national championship prediction. Well, guess what? It doesn’t matter because I would’ve picked Butler anyway (Honestly, Butler really could have won a national championship. I continue struggling to wrap my mind around that fact. It was THAT close.) That puts me at a stellar o-fer, an O for the Final Four. Fantastic.

In case you forgot, I was in Rapid City, South Dakota, attending the Finley-Templeton wedding (yes, I am using the wedding as an excuse not to update). The ceremony was beautiful. The families were great hosts. And both Adam and Kara looked insanely happy to be together. It was great to take part in the festivities with the happy couple. Congrats again to Adam and Kara!

Unable to watch most of the Saturday games, I did catch the last couple minutes of the Butler vs MSU contest. If the rest of the game was anything like the final minutes, then I missed a dandy. Despite being on the country’s biggest stage, the Butler Bulldogs made the necessary plays to escape with a win. I couldn’t believe Butler actually had a legitimate chance to win a national championship (did I say that already?). (Oh, and PS – Although Butler played Cinderella this tournament, they proved they belong among the nation’s elite. Move over Gonzaga. There’s a new and improved Bulldog team to be called the king of mid-majors.)

I would have picked Butler because I wanted them so badly to win. I’m not a big Duke fan. I’m not a big Coach K fan. And I’m especially not a big fan of either after the easy draw they received to get to the national championship game. Yes, they beat everyone they played. But were they ever really tested? I vote no.

Regardless, it couldn’t have been a better championship game. Well, I take that back. It could have. This could have went down as the best game of all time. Any sport. Any era. Ever.

Not only did Butler reach the Final Four, in their home city, as a big underdog, conquering storied-program after program, but they almost won. Twice. Two times the Bulldogs were within inches of winning the game.

The first – Gordon Hayward’s fall-away with just over six seconds left that proved just long. This would have put Butler ahead by one and in a great position to win the game.

The second – Hayward’s potential game-winning half-court shot as time expired that bounced off the glass before hitting front rim and out. Both shots were about an inch too long. Who said basketball wasn’t a game of inches?

If Hayward makes either, this is the best game of all-time. The underdog story. The home-town team. A highly difficult shot to win the game. All that against one of the most historic programs in college basketball history boasting one of the most hallowed-coaches in the sport.

The only thing that would’ve made this game better (other than Butler winning) would be someone making big plays in the end. Unlike 2008 Memphis vs Kansas, there was no Mario Chalmers three to force overtime. We didn’t see someone step up and savor the moment like Christian Laettner. Duke looked nervous. Butler’s shots just didn’t fall. It is still one of the greatest championship of all-time. But, like few other games can, this one had a shot to be the best-of-the-best.

Instead, it was more missed opportunities. Let’s look back. After Matt Howard’s layup with 1:43 to go:

With 1:18 to go, Duke’s Nolan Smith drives the lane with the Blue Devils up 60-57. He leaves it short. Miss #1.

Rebound, to Butler’s Ronald Nored. He races up the floor for a fast break opportunity. Finds Shelvin Mack open for three and a chance to tie. Miss #2.

Offensive rebound Matt Howard. Now 1:09 to play. Butler holds possession. Pick-n-roll leaves Howard wide open for another layup with under 55 seconds on the clock.

Duke ball. Run a set. Wide-open Kyle Singler flashes to the middle in front of the free-throw line. Receives a pass for Jon Scheyer for an open 12-footer. Airball. (Ok. Maybe it grazed the front of the rim. For all intensive purposes, airball.) Miss #4. Hustle by big-man Brian Zoubek keeps the ball alive. But, the ball bounces off the seven-footer’s big right foot.

So far, we have two open layups by Matt Howard and a lot of missed opportunities. Timeout.

Butler possession. The whole time, Brent, the WebMaster, and I are screaming “Hayward. Get the ball to Hayward”. The Bulldogs almost lose the ball out of bounds. Timeout. Try to pass it in. Timeout. Finally, Hayward has the ball in his hands.

Starting with about 10 seconds to go, Hayward begins moving forward. First to his left. Cut off by Singler. Behind his back to his right hand. Hayward reaches the right elbow. 9 seconds to play. Howard fights for position and Zoubek moves to help. One more dribble toward the right block. Hayward jumpstops. Zoubek steps up. 7.3 seconds. Hayward falls away from two-feet outside the right block and releases a high-arching rainbow. 6 seconds to go. Ball hits long and bounces off the rim. Miss #5. Rebound Zoubek. Fouled with 3.6 seconds remaining.

Maybe the most clutch play of our finish was Zoubek’s first made free-throw. A 55% shooter, I didn’t think it was going in. But, can it be a clutch play if it didn’t really matter. Regardless of whether Zoubek made it or not, Butler would have shot a half-courter. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if Duke is up two or three. Is the free-throw clutch? I vote no.

Zoubek steps to the line for the second. Misses on purpose. Hayward skies for the rebound. Clock starts.

Hayward moves around Zoubek and pass 3/4 court. 2.2 seconds. Singler steps up. Hayward moves down the right sideline approaching half court. A big screen by Howard knocks Singler to the ground and clears a path for Hayward. 1.4 seconds. Hayward steps on the half court line to the right of the circle. 0.6 seconds. Hayward releases a two-handed shot with 0.4 seconds as Nolan Smith contests. Buzzer sounds. Ball floats toward the basket beginning its downward decent. Ball caroms off the backboard, bounces off front-rim and bounces out. Miss #6.

Elation for Duke. Heartbreak for Butler. It was that close. A game of inches.

Butler has been and should be commended for their efforts. They play great defense and have a knack for making timely baskets. The Bulldogs play great TEAM basketball. They didn’t win with one-and-dones. In fact, no Final Four team did. Butler’s run is great for college basketball. After this year’s tournament you’re telling me we need to change the NCAA basketball championships? The Bulldog’s success this year proved that March Madness is running like a well-oiled machine.





(Back Home Again in) Indiana

3 04 2010

In October, 347 schools and some 3,500-plus division 1 basketball players begin a journey. Each vying to make a name for themselves, hoping to obtain the ultimate goal — the NCAA tournament. Five months later, the entire season boils down to three weekends. This year, the first round had 11 games decided by five points or less, two overtime games, one double overtime, and 10 seed upsets. Some analysts went as far as referring to the opening Thursday as the best day ever in the NCAA Tournament. With seven games decided by three points or less, three overtime contests, and seven seed upsets — it’s hard to argue with them.

As fans, we were riding high, eagerly awaiting the round of 32 to see what happened next. While many expected a return to normalcy, underdogs like UNI had other ideas. The round of 32 did not disappoint. Ten games decided by less than 10 points and major upsets such as UNI over top-seeded Kansas, Cornell dominating Wisconsin, Washington trouncing New Mexico, and Saint Mary’s manhandling Villanova.

Enter the Sweet 16. Time for the bigger teams, the bigger conferences to win out. No more upsets. The Cornell’s and UNI’s could not compete at this level. Or could they? In the South, Duke and Baylor won handily. Same in the East with Kentucky and West Virginia. The Midwest and West, however, kept the upset trend going. Of the four games, the largest margin of victory was seven (and that was mostly because of free throws at the end). MSU scraped by UNI with a couple big offensive rebounds at the end. Tennessee halts Evan Turner and the OSU Buckeyes, preventing Turner from releasing a potential tying three as time expired. Kansas State vs Xavier was a double-overtime gem, with Jordan Crawford keeping the Musketeers in it with 30-ft bomb to force double-OT. And lastly, the story of the tournament, the Butler Bulldogs lead from start to finish, dismantling a much bigger and more talented Syracuse team.

Had enough yet? The tournament was far from over. In the Elite Eight, no game was decided by double digits. West Virginia reaches the Final Four by out-toughing Kentucky’s young and dynamic team. Duke, the lone remaining one-seed by this time, finishes off a fiesty Baylor club. Butler keeps chugging along, proving they deserved their top-ten preseason ranking, besting Kansas State by seven, but showing again that they can control the action from start to finish. Final Four mainstays Michigan State (I say that because any person who’s entered Tom Izzo’s program and stayed for four years has competed in the Final Four) used a last second free throw from Raymar Morgan after Tennessee missed their opportunity to take the lead from the line moments earlier.

It’s six months later after the season began. We’re now down to four teams with just over 50 athletes. What better place to host such a crazy tournament than back home in Indiana? Back to the homeland, basketball. After such a stunning season, you deserve it.

Believe me, I know basketball was invented in Massachusetts. But the extended history of the game lies in Indiana. Inventor James Naismith recognized this himself in 1936, “While it was invented in Massachusetts, basketball really had its beginning in Indiana, which remains today the center of the sport.”

Ok, fine that was 1936. A lot changes nearly four scores later, right? Not if you pay attention.

People love giving credit to NYC for pushing basketball to new boundaries. Madison Square Garden serves as the “mecca” of basketball because of the great Knicks teams, the city’s sheer size (media and talent pool), Michael Jordan demolition of Ewing, Starks and Spike, and the popularization of streetball.

All very valid points. But no one has history like Indiana. The who: Tony Hinkle (Hinkle Fieldhouse anyone?), John Wooden, Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, and Bob Knight. The where: Assembly Hall, Mackey Arena, the Wigwam, Hoosier gym, and the aforementioned Hinkle Fieldhouse. And look at the schools. Powerhouses like Indiana University, Notre Dame, Purdue, and now Butler remain in the national discussion. Historic teams such as Valporaiso and Indiana State will never be forgotten. When I see those names, I think Bob Knight patrolling the sidelines (and throwing chairs). Digger Phelps with his ugly ties and hard-working teams. Gene Keady’s hair (more specifically the combover) and his sideline-scowls. For Butler I think of Hinkle Fieldhouse, my favorite court to have ever played on, the movie Hoosiers, and all the history surrounding the hollowed building. Valporaiso and Indiana State will always bring to mind the heroics of Bryce Drew and Larry Bird, willing their underdog teams into NCAA Tournament lore.

That is Indiana basketball. Its history. Its passion. It is everything that’s good about the game. Truly, there could be no better setting for a tournament filled with as much intrigue, as many upsets, and all the underdog stories we witnessed during this year’s tournament.

Come home, basketball. After such a stunning season, you deserve it.





Final Four Predictions

3 04 2010

First off, I want to make sure I extend a big congratulations to Adam Templeton and Kara Finley, who are soon to be married in South Dakota. Along with some former teammates, I am present in SD enjoying the festivities. I couldn’t be happier to see two of my friends, two great people, unite for eternity. I’m ecstatic to be able to share this day with them, and wish them nothing but joy and happiness down the road. Congrats to Adam and Kara! (But a wedding on the first day of the Final Four Temp? How’d you let that one sneak by?)

Back to business. (Well, sort of. Can it be called business if there is absolutely no financial activity? No? Ok then. I’ll try again.)

Here we go again, prediction time. Time for me to try to prove my basketball knowledge (or at least guess right). After a decent 8-4 record coming in, it will be interesting to see how the Final Four plays out.

Game 1 Butler vs Michigan State

To be honest, I’m disappointed that these two teams have to be on the same side of the bracket. I want both these teams to win for different reasons.

Butler is the mid-major team, representing a history of underdogs in the NCAA tournament and basketball players without the most size or talent. But more importantly, this team represents the common man. This is a hard-working team who represents everything that is good about the NCAA. A team filled with scholar-athletes and overachievers who, when put together, can produce a whole greater than the sum of their individual parts. As a basketball fan what more could you ask? Watching Butler play is like watching an instructional video. They are that well coached and they are that good.

Michigan State is my home-town team, boasting mostly Michigan players, and representing the state’s blue-collar work ethic. If you don’t live there, it’s difficult to understand. The state of Michigan (the east side especially) is struggling more than people realize when looking at statistics (After all, who knows what it means to have a 15% unemployment rate statewide, rising above 20% in certain areas? Those are just numbers). But Tom Izzo’s teams show the state that it can succeed.

I often am annoyed with media members overblowing the relationship between team success and the attitude of their host city. But in this case its hard to ignore. Detroit and much of Michigan was built on the premise of assembly-line labor. Workers arrived, put on their hard hats, and got to work, earning each month’s paycheck through. Tom Izzo’s teams compete in much the same way. Izzo prides himself on defense, rebounding, and smart basketball. He doesn’t generally recruit the top-20 players in the country (although he’s gotten a few), he wants the lunch-pail guys. Guys with a chip on their shoulder who are going to work harder than the kid who’s been spoon-fed his whole life. That’s why Izzo recruits so often in Michigan and the surrounding areas; those kids understand the struggle and will do anything to put themselves in a position to succeed.

Now, in saying this, I don’t mean that this doesn’t happen elsewhere. Plenty of coaches recruit players from a disadvantaged upbringing. But Izzo doesn’t go after the bad boys, he recruits the hard-workers. Rarely do MSU athletes (I am referencing the basketball team, not football in this case obviously) find themselves in trouble. Izzo runs a tight ship and deserves all the respect in the world for the job he’s done.

Well, after my two cents on each team that really tells nothing about the game, I guess I better get into some content…

Game 1 represents coaches with similar philosophy. Both teams made it to the Final Four relying on the “ugly” parts of basketball to win (rebounding for MSU and defense for Butler). I’d be surprised, scratch that, I would be shocked if this game reaches 60 points, let alone 70. Neither team is offensive-minded, though they can both score and play very well together.

I think the key to the game will be Butler’s defensive rebounding. MSU is going to have trouble scoring on Butler’s defense despite superior athleticism. But, second chance points could be huge momentum swings in the Spartan’s direction. To get here, Butler had to thwart a similar Kansas State team’s efforts, and did an excellent job.

The most important player for Butler will be Matt Howard (Yes, this is the same Matt Howard that averaged 14 pts, 8 rebs, and 2 blocks in two games against Brent Heemskerk). As an undersized center, a lot of the rebounding will fall on Howard’s hustle, grit, and determination to outsmart the Spartan bigs to the ball. (Oh and remember how I mentioned Howards resemblance to one, Ron Burgundy. Thoughts?)

Howard

Hello San Diego

Burgundy

This face? It's me remembering the time I dunked on Brent Heemskerk. Nasty.

Offensively, Butler knows what they will get from Shelvin Mack and Gordon Hayward, two players who have been outstanding in this tournament. However, they need Howard to step up on this end as well. Howard will have to be that third scoring option, trying to get easy baskets whenever he can with offensive rebounds and low post feeds. (The game’s wildcard will be the location of one Mr. Heemskerk. If Howard can channel his inner self-confidence by feeling Brent’s presence MSU may be in trouble. If Brent’s location in South Dakota hidden amongst Mt. Rushmore is too difficult for Howard’s radar to detect, Howard could be in for a long day. Brent’s presence is key, not some of the time, all the time. And yes, Brent eagerly awaits the day when people we played against are no longer in the NCAA.)

For Michigan State, their keys remain much the same; find a way to share the ball and break down the opponents defense without your starting point guard and best player (Kalin Lucas). Durrell Summers has stepped up, averaging over 20 PPG and knocking down clutch baskets for the Spartans. But in this game, points in the paint become even more important. With their size advantage, look for MSU to establish Raymar Morgan, Draymond Green, and Delvon Roe posting up smaller players. If Butler is forced to double team, Korie Lucious, Chris Allen, and Summers will be able to get open looks.

This game will be a hotly-contested, low scoring affair that goes down to the wire. Neither team will be willing to give an inch and I’m looking forward to the physical play. Slight edge to MSU for their size and athleticism, but I can already tell the basketball gods (and the Indy fans) are going to be upset with me for this pick.

Final score: Butler 56 – MSU 58
Brent’s Prediction: MSU 1 – Butler 0 (Points don’t matter to the big fella. Just results.)

Game 2 West Virginia vs Duke

While the other side of the bracket predicates everything that is good about college basketball, this matchup shows something entirely different.

In West Virginia, you have an easy-to-hate coach (Bob Huggins) notorious for his thug and intimidation tactics. Huggins will beat his team up so they beat you up. He has a history of giving people second and third chances (not a bad thing) while his teams continually are in trouble with authorities (this is more of a reference back to his Cincy days as we haven’t heard much from the Mountaineer squad). West Virginia’s made it this far by defeating their opponents mentally and physically.

Duke and Coach K have the pretty-boy image of college basketball. Though seemingly cool on the court, Coach K has a reputation for belittling players behind closed doors, often barraging them with a shouldn’t-be-made-public vocabulary. His players either love him or hate him. Just like a lot of fans either love Duke, or hate Duke.

If nothing else, West Virginia vs Duke is intriguing. Duke has shown they can play any style, but matching-up with the forward trio of bully Da’Sean Butler, “Stretch-Armstrong” Devin Ebanks, and increasing steady Kevin Jones, is something the Blue Devils haven’t had to do this year. What makes the Moutaineers so intriguing is that their best players can basically all play the same position. They have size, they have strength, and they have heart.

For Duke to win, they are going to have to shoot well. Jon Scheyer (one of the least favorite players of my former teammate Jonathan Cox), Kyle Singler, and Nolan Smith will have to shoot the ball well. Against Baylor, The Dukies were fortunate that despite Singler’s nightmare performance, Smith stepped up and had a career game. Duke’s big three will have to combine for 60 points to keep up with West Virginia’s attack, while their role players must continue to do the dirty work.

West Virginia must defend the three-point line in their zone and not allow Duke to get many open looks. The length of the zone is going to have to bother the Blue Devils, otherwise, we could be looking at a high-scoring matchup.

I like West Virginia and their three forwards to carry them to victory

Final: West Virginia 70 – Duke 64
Brent: Duke 1 – WVU 0





Couldn’t Finish Strong

28 03 2010

50/50 I guess is as good as I can hope for. Early day predictions began with disappointment, but late day picks held true. Saturday was the exact opposite.

Earlier in the day I enthusiastically watched the Butler Bulldogs prove to the nation they deserve to be the most talked about team in this tournament. Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack carried the load with 22 and 16 points, respectively. Both gave impressive performances and are seemingly unstoppable on the offensive end.

Even with the strong offensive numbers, Butler’s defense was the most outstanding part of their performance. They stymied the Kansas State attack with a physical, harassing defensive style. Ronald Nored provides constant ball pressure while Willie Veasley’s versatility allows Butler to matchup with big guards or undersized post players.

And the Bulldogs even rebounded to boot. For any strong defensive team, there is nothing more frustrating than repeatedly giving up second and third opportunities. Against a bigger, more athletic Wildcat team known for their offensive rebounding prowess, Butler more then held their own, outrebounding Kansas State 36-27.

Every time I watch this team I like them more and more. I can’t wait to see the turnout of the Butler faithful in Indy.

Fortunately, after the Butler game I was headed to Wells Fargo Arena with Linds to watch the Harlem Globetrotters. After three-quarters of the way through the show, I get a text – Kentucky’s down 10 with a few minutes to go. Wait, what? No way. Kentucky’s too good. Plus, I picked Kentucky. I should’ve known better.

My gamechanger, Patrick Patterson, had a decent game with 8 pts and 13 rebs, but it was no where near what I expected. It definitely cannot be compared to Travis Walton’s USC performance. Not sure I could’ve been much more wrong about that one, but I guess you live and learn.

Regardless, another mediocre day puts my Sweet Sixteen and forward record to a less than stellar 6-4. My only condolence? Heading over to the MLB (for those unfamiliar with the MLB it is a acronym for the house shielding the WebMaster, Mr. Brent Heemskerk, and Luke Frieberg from the elements) this morning to find Brent’s leftovers still hanging out in all it’s meaty existence. At least I’m not the only one who can’t get things done.

Finish your meat big fella!





If Gambling Were Legal: Part III (I think?)

27 03 2010

Ok, let’s see if today’s results line up better with my predictions.

Game 1: Butler vs Kansas St

This is a very intriguing matchup. While Game 2 will be athletes on athletes, this represents contrasting styles and coaches. Though both younger and opportunistic coaches, Brad Stevens and Frank Martin have drastically differing approaches. Stevens is the calm, cool, and collected Butler coach who is often satisfied with his team on the floor, rarely reacts to mistakes, and exudes confidence in his players. Even in a loss, Stephens never wavers. (When we beat Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse, I’m not sure the guy even blinked.) He’s the type of coach I’d love to play for. Martin is a fiery pistol, ready to blow a gasket at any moment either to player, coach, official, or water bottle.

After watching games on Thursday, I’m going Butler. Both teams are getting over very emotional victories, but the difference is Butler dominated Syracuse. Butler led the entire game and refused to relenquish in the end. Kansas State was in a dogfight against Xavier, and even though the one-two punch of Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen showed a flare for the dramatic, I think it might be tough for this team to be as juiced for Butler.

The Bulldogs are poised and balanced, and honestly did not even play their best game against the Orange. A good three point shooting team finished 6-24 from three, and still beat the best team in the country.

Truthfully, part of me is picking Butler to win because: A.) They are a midmajor. B.) I really thought Syracuse was the best team in the tournament. C.) The Final Four is in Indy. D.) Butler is in Indy. E.) With all the upsets this year I think the basketball gods will make this happen.

I like Butler to slow the pace and impose their will on the Wildcats. Look for a close game with Butler pulling away in the closing moments.

Final: Butler 67 – KSU 61

Game 2: West Virginia vs Kentucky

Kentucky scoring only 62 points against Cornell (and still winning by 17) tells me this will NOT be that type of game. Look for the Wildcats to try to jump out early and get their running game going against a West Virginia team that won’t mind doing the same.

This game really becomes an interesting matchup because the stars for both teams play different positions. While Kentucky boasts sure-fire lottery picks John Wall and Demarcus Cousins at point guard and center, respectively, the Mountaineers strut out D’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks, and Kevin Jones at their wing/power forward positions.

Because of the matchups, some of the less heralded guys on each team will play drastically increased roles. Look for Patrick Patterson of Kentucky to rise to the challenge for Kentucky. Patterson is a junior putting up the lowest numbers of his career because Wall and Cousins demand that much attention. He is still an NBA draft pick and this could be his time to shine.

What kind of effort do I expect out of Patterson? Does anyone remember Travis Walton from the 2009 MSU Spartans? The former point guard turned defensive stopper and heady running mate of 2009 Big Ten Player of the Year Kalin Lucas. Walton finished the season averaging just over 5 points per game. But after breezing past Robert Morris in the first round, the Spartans got all they could handle with tenth-seeded USC Trojans boasting DeMar DeRozan and Taj Gibson. Two of MSU top scorers struggled, as Goran Suton and Raymar Morgan combine for 10 points. How does MSU win? Walton stepped up, going 8-13 from the floor finishing with 18 points, willing his team to victory. Walton scored 2 points or less in all but one other tournament game. This performance will always be remember as the one that got his team to the Final Four. The challenge is out there Mr. Patterson. Do you accept?

Oh yeah. And Patterson is from Huntington, WV. Extra motivation.

Because of their version of the Big Three, I like Kentucky to roll in an up-and-down high scoring affair.

Final: WVU 75 – Kentucky 87





A Meaty Sweet Sixteen

27 03 2010

The Sweet Sixteen is a big deal. So we couldn’t watch the game just anywhere. The obvious choice? Jethros. (So yes Drake sports fans, I do actually go there. Great food and atmosphere, what’s not to like?) Here is a self-descriptive photo of the WebMaster as we watched Tennessee vs Ohio State. Oh, and this is the SEVENTEENTH time (I felt like “17″ didn’t provide enough emphasis) the WebMaster has finished the entire thing. By 9 PM, he traded jeans for sweatpants, and was in a cold sweat the rest of the night. This, to me, only further adds to the accomplishment. Kudos WebMaster.

The Webmaster doing his thing.

This got the night off to a promising start. (Seriously. The guy finished it in about 12 minutes. The rest of the table hadn’t finished passing the ketchup.) But then Brent Heemskerk’s subpar performance happened. I knew I was in for a bad night. Shown with Blair Nelson challenging the WebMaster, the three pounds of meat in Brent’s leftovers box were more disappointing than Omar Samhan laying an egg and me wrongly selecting OSU to win a close one.

Now onto the less important stuff–the tourney. I know, I know. I messed up. By about 8 PM last night I couldn’t believe it. While Tennessee and Ohio State were in a dogfight, St. Mary’s was down 25 plus at the hands of the powerful… Baylor? Wait, my upset pick got smashed by more than 20 points and it wasn’t even THAT close? I don’t know what the line on the game was, but man that was ugly. And even my bold player prediction – omar samhan underperformed. (Since I put his name in all caps before, I feel like all lowercase letters is more fitting after his first half performance. At the half omar had a stellar 3 points on 1-8 shooting with 6 rebounds and 2 blocks. While the last two figures are decent numbers for a half, 1-8 in a half for your game changer is not gonna win many games.)

Brent not finishing his dinner. Shocking.

Brent must have guarded him during halftime instead of eating his dinner, because omar regained his confidence and put up decent numbers in the second half, finishing with a respectable 15 pts and 9 rebs. But, I guess thats what a gamechanger is. The guy who is going to make or break the team. The guy who can win it. Or lose it. Last night, that guy was omar samhan in a nutshell.

Ok, fine, I got that game wrong (yes WAYYY wrong). At least I was going to be 3-1 in my predictions, right? Well, almost. Tennessee vs OSU was a good game. Ultimately these teams were relatively even and put on a show. I was even right about Evan Turner (it was the obvious choice I know, but still). Turner finished with 31 pts, 7 reb, 5 ast, a steal and a block. That’s a pretty complete game no matter how you cut it. Oh yeah, and he never sat against a swarming defense designed to stop him, pressure him, and rattle him for the full 94 feet. Even though he finished with 6 turnovers, I cannot take anything away from him. He played a very good floor game. Tennessee just has more bodies and more balance.

Now stumbling into the late games, I understood how OSU could lose (Ugh St. Mary’s) but I needed to pick up two wins to at least salvage the evening.

Actually, before I go there, congrats again to the UNI Panthers on a great season. They surpassed all expectations and showed the NCAA that we the MVC are getting closer. The MVC can be a great conference and successful in March. (Now if only we can annex Butler from the Horizon.) Thanks UNI and congrats on a fantastic year.

As for the game, UNI played tough, but ultimately the size, power and coaching of MSU won out. For one of the first times this season, UNI did not get great shots at the end of the game. They were trying a little too hard. Maybe a little tired.

Regardless, MSU still needed to make a few big plays to win the game, and they did.

I’m happy with my Draymond “Day-Day” Green selection for gamechanger. He was easily the difference. In the first half, UNI got out to a sizable lead as MSU struggled to find their identity.

Without Kalin Lucas, the Spartans lacked a calming influence on the floor. In the second half, that was Green. Green finished with 8 points, 5 rebounds, and a team leading four assists. (Tied with Lucious. Yes the regular point guards for MSU are Kalin Lucas and Korie Lucious. Weird, I know. It’d be like if Ali and I played in the same backcourt. As Raftery pointed out last night, a game handmade for Al McGuire.)

Maybe I would’ve been better served selecting Durrell Summers, as he scored half MSU’s points in the first half and continued his scoring string into the second, finishing with 19 pts and 7 reb. But Green is still my guy. And you know what else, Bill Raftery agrees — so it doesn’t matter what me or anyone else thinks.

A few more interesting notes on the UNI vs MSU game, as this was the main event of the evening. After Johnny Moran hit a three to pull UNI within one at 43-42 with 10:22 to go, UNI did not score another field goal. Almost 11 minutes. Thats unheard of for this senior team. Also, UNI’s bench, or I guess in this game Jake Koch, combined for only six points and six rebounds (all six pts and four of the rebs were from the young Koch). Normally a strong suit for the Panthers, bench production was almost non-existant despite playing regular minutes. To put this in perspective, against KU, UNI’s bench finished with 18 pts and 13 rebs.

Maybe the most impressive stat of the night, other than MSU outrebounding UNI by 11, was MSU’s assist numbers. Without their starting point guard, main facilitator, and best player (aka Lucas) the Spartans finished with 15 assists on 19 field goals. Think about that for a second, of the 19 shots made by State, 15 of them included helpers from teammates. Couple that with only 10 turnovers and a team 1.5 A/TO ratio and you’re looking at a winning formula. Take pride, UNI fans, in the fact that despite all these uneven stats, PantherNation still had a chance to win the game in the final minutes. This is progress.

(Oh and by the way I was very excited when I saw MSU’s final 59 point total… exactly what I picked for them. I hope this makes up for omar… Does it? Maybe? No? Fine. I blame Brent.)

When CBS finally switched to Duke vs Purdue the game seemed entirely uninteresting. With only a few minutes left, the game was basically over, Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg seemed like they were half asleep (Why are our nation’s scientists not figuring out a way for Gus Johnson/Bill Raftery to call every sporting event ever?), and the camera continued to pan across groves of empty seats in Reliant Stadium. My heart was with Purdue, but Duke looked better on paper and proved it on the hardwood. At least I no longer had to suffer from the agony of watching. It was over.

Night score 2-2. The weekend score 5-3. Hopefully I can do better in the E8.





If Gambling Were Legal…

25 03 2010

In March, this is what you talk about. Dominating sports pages, front pages, and even the Wall Street Journal, the NCAA tournament is impossible to ignore. Everyone, from everyday basketball fans and alums to presidents fills out a bracket. Everyone also offers their two cents, explaining who will win and why. Well, now that we’ve finally reached the Sweet Sixteen, I’ll take a crack at it. Here’s a short little breakdown of tonight’s games:

Butler vs Syracuse

Butler has had an amazing year. Starting the season in the top 10, going undefeated in conference, and winning every game they “should win”, it has been quite a ride. They have good balance and play really well together. That being said, the mid-major’s great ride will come to an end tonight.

To me, Syracuse is the best team in the tournament. They are athletic. They shoot. They share. They have size. And more than anything else, they play a unique defense and play it really well. Despite not having Arinze Onuaku to anchor the middle, the Orange still have the size and depth making them very difficult to beat.

For Butler to win, they need to shoot well. They have a lot of three point shooters, but it will be even more important tonight because the length of Syracuse’s zone will bother smaller Butler guards from scoring on the interior. Butler is too good, too experienced to be blown out, but Syracuse will dominate this game.

Final: Syracuse 74- Butler 61

Side note: Butler continues to dominate the Horizon conference. Don’t you think it would be good for them to join a more competitive league… say the Missouri Valley? Even though the odds of this actually occurring are slim to none, hear me out. Butler is a small private school with a strong academic background, very similar to Drake and Creighton. So the other Bulldogs fit from a size standpoint. What is the major sport of the Valley? Basketball. Butler fits. Location? The Valley already boasts Indiana State and Evansville in Indiana, traveling a little further north and west to Indianapolis would hardly be a deterrent.

Butler also provides a larger media market, with what would be come the largest city in the conference. For Butler, this would offer better opponents, better exposure, and a meaningful conference tournament. Rather than strolling through conference, the other Bulldogs would be challenged every night, a better deal for fans and the players. So that means the Valley would have to expand to 11 teams or boot a current school. Evansville anyone? The Purple Aces are the smallest school in the conference and continue to struggle against the level of competition. Would they not be better served in the Horizon if traded straight up for Butler? I vote yes. Plus, both schools reside in Indiana, meaning it wouldn’t be a stretch. Oh, and Butler was a Valley member from 1932-1934. Just saying…

Washington vs West Virginia

There’s a lot of intrigue in the matchup. West Virginia is a deep, talented team that can beat you a lot of different ways. But, U Dub is athletic and hot. The early conference season was not kind to the Huskies despite lofty preseason expectations. Hitting their stride at the perfect time and winning 14 of 16, they have a great chance to be rare double digit seed in the Elite Eight.

West Virginia needs to deliver one of their best performances of the year to fend off the upset-minded Huskies. Losing point guard Darryl Bryant probably hurts more than many think, but opens the door for Joe Mazzulla to prove himself on the game’s biggest stage. If the 6’2″ can repeat his performance from the Big East tournament championship against Georgetown (6 pts, 2 rebs, 7 assts, 0 turns) then look out. However, if he struggles early WVU could struggle to find their rhythm for a full 40 minutes.

I pick WVU to win because of size, interior scoring and talent, but look out Mountaineer fans, this will be a bumpy ride. This is gonna be a fun one.

Final: WVU 83 – UWash 81

Cornell vs Kentucky

I was shocked by Cornell’s 18-point shellacking of Wisconsin, but see this as the end for the Big Red. To win, Cornell needs to build a 5-point lead in the first five minutes. Period. This team can play from ahead with their deliberate style. But, if Kentucky gets up early and Cornell is forced into more of an open floor game, look out.

Kentucky is too athletic and too talented to lose to a team like Cornell. They are deep and surprisingly play well together. Despite what many say about John Calipari, he again has proved to be a master motivator at the college level. John Wall may be the most unstoppable player in this tournament. Look for him to push the tempo and make life miserable for Cornell.

Final 1 (Kentucky gets off to a fast start): Kentucky 80- Cornell 60
Final 2 (Cornell ahead by 5 after 5 min): Kentucky 70 – Cornell 59

Xavier vs Kansas State

Despite two tough wins in the tournament so far, Xavier is an enigma. The talent, athleticism, and size are all there. They’ve proven they can beat the best, but are also very inconsistent. Star play Jordan Crawford averages 20 per game, but is very capable of laying an egg. He’s a great player but can detract from his team’s success. He takes bad shots and takes Xavier out of their offense. If he’s hot, Xavier is as good as anyone, if he’s not it could be like playing at Dayton all over again.

Even though they somehow lost to Iowa State at home (seriously, thats a bad loss, sorry ISU fans), Kansas State has great balance and is built to win in the tourney. Frank Martin’s aggressive personality ensures his team will be up to the challenge. Look for the Wildcats to be physical with Crawford and frustrate him from start to finish. I like KSU.

Final: Xavier 75 – KSU 82





I spent my day off in American retail stores.

8 04 2009

Finally we got a day off today. Its been a few weeks, because we’ve been a little bit up and down and have been losing some games. This week we played twice, both times against team boasting some of my college opponents. On Thursday, we played at Bransuchweig with Jeremy Crouch and Will Franklin from Bradley, and on Sunday we hosted Dusseldorf and Pete Campbell from Butler. Each game was our third meeting with the respective teams because we defeated each in the German Cup Competition. It also marked the third time we beat both teams, always good for bragging rights, especially against people you know.

Even though we didn’t really play well in either game, it is always nice to see some familiar faces. It’s nice to be able to compare experiences, talk about things we miss from the States, talk about college, etc. It is interesting to see the bond American players have with each other over here. While it is not as noticeable in Germany because each team has a number of Americans, in other countries such as Turkey who go as far as limiting the number of Americans who can be on the floor at one time, Americans really stick together. Regardless of past relationships, before games, Americans greet each other as if they are old friends, discussing families, living, and oh yeah, basketball. Its almost like being part of a secret society. Too bad I often get confused for a German player, for reasons including my name, size, skin complexion, and being from a Mid-Major conference.

Since we had two games in the week, it was quite a busy week. We practiced a lot, and the three and a half hour travel each way to Braunschweig makes for a long week. Even though it can be nice to travel to road games, extended time spent on a bus is not anyone’s favorite way to spend their time.

So today was a day to try to relax and enjoy the lovely weather we’ve been having (in the mid-60’s all week). One of my teammates, Keith Simmons and I decided to venture off to an outlet mall rumored to be about 45 minutes away. After packing up the trusty Garmin GPS we were on our way through the German countryside.

After about twenty minutes or so, we realized that we were basically in the middle of nowhere, a trend that continued until finally the outlets finally rose up above the tree line, but after we already passed them. Since the weather was beautiful we parked and enjoyed walking around. The stores were decent, a mix of well-known brands – Tommy Hilfiger, Ecko, Nike, Versace, La Coste,, and a few stores I’d never heard of. Even though I didn’t buy anything, it was worth the trip to spend a little bit of time in a place that felt familiar (other than the people speaking German it really kind of felt like we were back home shopping), on a beautiful day, with a good friend.

Now here’s to hoping I can continue this once-a-week posting.








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