Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Went There - "Third" Round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament in Milwaukee

With all due respect to what is now the "First Round" of the NCAA Tournament in Dayton, OH that allows Father-In-Law-Cheese to see NCAA Tournament games every year, the NCAA really bungled the nomenclature when they made the play-in games the "First Round".  Whenever the artist formerly known as the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament are in the Midwest, my buddy Sug and I make sure to attend the games.  Normally we attend four weekday games all in one day on either Thursday or Friday with the winner of those four games meeting for two games on the weekend on either Saturday or Sunday.  This year the "Second and Third Rounds" were in Milwaukee.  Due to work commitments we were only able to attend the "Third Round" weekend session of Michigan v. Texas and Wisconsin v. Oregon.

Last time we went to the NCAA Tournament at the Bradley Center in 2010 we went with Sug's older brother David that played basketball at Wisconsin.  David brought one of his former teammates.  The guys in their late 30's that sat in front of us thought that David's friend was Ron Dayne so they started trying to take pictures on the sly.  It was high comedy when we caught those guys sending pictures messages to their friends midway through the first of four games of the day, which gave us tons of comedic fodder for the rest of the day.  Oh and that weekend is when I became convinced that Xavier's Jordan Crawford could be come an irrational confidence bench guy on an NBA playoff team.

The NCAA Tournament always has great stories lines and this year in Milwaukee was no exception.  Yesterday Marquette head basketball coach Buzz Williams resigned to take the same position at Virigina Tech so I gave Marquette my thoughts on how they should replace Buzz.  Marquette missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Buzz while Wisconsin was a two seed playing on Marquette's home court.  Mama Cheese, Sug, E-Dogg, E-Dogg's father Tom, David, David's wife, and Sug/David's Mom went to the game.  Unfortunately Papa Cheese was unable to join us because he is in the middle of tax season. We had seats right at mid court in the upper deck, 10 rows up.  The seats were great, I would venture to say they are better than 50% of the lower bowl seats.  The first game pitted Michigan against Texas.  I thought more Michigan fans would make the trip to Milwaukee for the games but other than their allotted seats, Michigan didn't seem to have any more fans that Texas or Oregon.

The only real notable thing from the Michigan/Texas game was how many times they showed former Milwaukee Buck Big
Dog on the jumbo tron.  Big Dog's son, Glenn Robinson III, is currently a sophomore at Michigan.  There is no doubt that Little Dog can be a scorer in the NBA but based on the few games I've seen him play, unlike his father, it looks he is actually capable of playing defense.  Big Dog seemed none to thrilled to keep getting plastered on the jumbo tron since he was there to watch his son player in the NCAA Tournament.  As I stared up at the rafters of the seven retired Bucks numbers, it got me thinking about whether Big Dog's #13 should be raised to the rafters.  I understand Kareem and Big O but would actually take Big Dog ahead of the rest.  I am not sure we will ever see #13 raised to the rafters but would support the decision given all the others numbers that the franchise retired.  Check that, let's put Junior Bridgeman ahead of Big Dog as well only because there are rumors that he is going to take some ownership interest in the Bucks soon.  Since I aspire to be the general manager of one of the three major Cheesehead professional sports teams, I might as well get a jump start on kissing up to my potential future boss.  All kidding aside, if you want to understand why the Bucks have been such a frustrating franchise to follow for most of my lifetime, look no further than their seven retired jerseys.  The last guy to have his jersey retired played for the Bucks in 1989.

Sorry for that tangent, ultimately Michigan defeated Texas in a mostly forgettable game to clear the court for the Wisconsin/Oregon nightcap.  Wisconsin was the second seed in the West regional while the Oregon "Fighting" Ducks were the 7th seed.  Oregon always has interesting uniforms since Nike founder Phil Knight is an Oregon grad.  The incarnation they wore against the Badgers was fairly tame but they had "Fighting" plastered across the top, which puzzled me the entire game because I am not sure exactly what a "Fighting" Ducks is but I know that is not threatening in the least, especially since the mascot looks drunk as opposed to menacing.  Wisconsin had an uneven first half performance that saw them somehow only trail 40-35 with two minutes to play till Oregon hit back-to-back threes en route a 49-37 lead at the half.

Badger fans headed to the concession stands to drown their sorrows in over-priced crappy food and soda.  I love that Marquette serves beer during home games at the Bradley Center but when the NCAA Tournament comes to town, unless you are in a luxury box, no drinks are legally served.  Since Sug and I were heading back to Chicago after the game, we decided not to sneak in booze to the game.  That was probably the first time since the first session we ever attended in Indianapolis in 2003 when we found out the hard way that the NCAA does not sell booze at games even in venues not on college campuses.  Ever since we've done our best to have drinks in hand despite the odd, arbitrary alcohol lines in the sand the NCAA draws.

As if not being able to drink was punishment enough, the only TV's that were showed the other tournament games were 1980's-style 14" square TV's.  A couple hundred of my closest friends huddled around those TV's squinting to try to make senses of what we thought we were watching.  Luckily for me I stumbled upon the Syracuse/Dayton game with a few minutes left.  Syracuse was a three seed while UD was an 11 seed.

As I mentioned earlier, I have a soft spot in my heart for UD given that Father-In-Law-Cheese loves them as much as I love the Packers.  It was hard to see the grainy picture since I was 20 feet from the TV's but just being around so many people blindly cheering for the underdog was amazing.  Despite UD's Jordan Sibert turning the ball over with 14 seconds to play and a couple UD players missing some crucial free throws down the stretch, UD still lead Syracuse by two points with less than 10 seconds to play.  Likely Top 10 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft Tyler Ennis got the ball for Syracuse and pushed it to get a fairly good look at a three point attempt with time running out that thankfully rimmed out to give UD an improbable win.  That lead to In-Law-Cheese, Cheesehead Chick, and me trading a ton of jubilant text messages the rest of the evening.

That good mojo carried over into Wisconsin's performance in the second half as they quickly trimmed their 12 point deficit to one just point in less than five minutes into the second half thanks to the trio of Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser, and Frank Kaminsky.  Just a few minutes later when Wisconsin took the lead the Bradley Center was the loudest I've heard it since the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals.  At that point it looked like Wisconsin was going to cruise to an easy victory till their shooting went cold.  Wisconsin actually trailed 75-74 with just over a minute to play.  Thankfully shooting guard Ben Brust, the guy with the most made three-point shots in program history, made the biggest one of the bunch to put Wisconsin up for good at 77-75 en route to an impressive 85-77 win.

You can make an argument that even though Wisconsin only plays 7.5 guys a game, their seven regulars are the best top to bottom of head coach Bo Ryan's tenure. I know I gave an abbreviate game recap but notice I didn't mention small forward Sam Dekker or Nigel Hayes.  Neither guy had a great game but if Dekker declares for the 2014 NBA Draft I bet he goes in the first round while Hayes has a chance to be the best NBA prospect during Ryan's tenure.  Thanks to their win over the "Fighting" Ducks, the Badgers punched their ticket to the Sweet 16 where they will face the winner of 3rd seeded Creighton and 6th seeded Baylor in Anaheim, CA on Thursday night.

As Wisconsin beat Oregon, another Cheesehead college team was making headlines as well.  Wisconsin-Whitewater was down one point to Williams College with less than five second to play but still won on an impressive drive by Quardell Young to win the NCAA Division III National Championship.  Wisconsin's win over Oregon was probably the most entertaining Wisconsin game I've even seen in-person but still pales in comparison to the impressive wins by Dayton and UW-Whitewater.  I know it is cliche to say but the games just discussed all happened in one night of March, which is why so many people love March Madness.

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