Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Swiggity SWAC

Been a little while since this blog just posted on some random stuff, so here goes. First off, crank up your bass for this one, here's the most crunk Conference Tournament website this site has ever witnessed. Makes Pun City want to visit the 2003 SWAC tournament like never before.

If anyone out there has Adobe Reader and would like to know how to run their fancy new 2006 Big South Tournament, check this out. Cheerleaders trying to use amplified microphones (is there any other kind?), host schools providing fewer than 36 drinks for half-time and post-game use, and photographers blocking table signage need not apply.

Moving right along, this blog watched some of Last Comic Standing's premiere tonight, and it really showcased the declining quality of comedy in reality TV. Very challenging to tell which acts were supposed to be horrid and which were judged awesome.

One thing that's always awesome is Nintendo Entertainment System. This blog just grabbed an NES at a flea market this weekend, and couldn't beat Super Mario Brothers on the first 4 attempts. For a 20-year-old video game that uses 2 buttons and a directional pad, that it's any challenge at all is mildly amazing.

Keeping with a fairly random progression, this blog's headed to the Madison Mallards' home opener on Thursday. Some pretty sweet action because the promotions this site's going to reel in include a Schedule Poster, Mallards T-Shirt, Pabst Hat, and Mallards Pint Glass. Should be a pretty awesome haul. Almost as awesome as the day off promises to be.

Pun City's going to return some time before next Tuesday to get another Road Trip post up.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Anne Hafeli Stays Hot

Back to the afternoon of March 7th. Headed to John Q. Hammons Arena to see the women's final between Western Illinois and Oakland. Despite the efforts of 6'7" Zane Teilane, the top-seeded Westerwinds fell to 6th-seeded Oakland, 65-56. It was a Tuesday game at noon, the game was televised on ESPNU, admission was free with an "I Voted" sticker or $1.00 donation to a charity, and the crowd was around 150 people. This was okay though, because this blog was able to catch a Western Illinois t-shirt from their cheerleaders without much competition, and caught ice cream for yet another game. Also, this blog was able to check out tournament MVP Anne Hafeli, whose game was as good as her looks.

This was a pretty cool game, and now this blog had some time to kill before a 6:00 men's title game. This blog headed over to Woodland Hills Mall down the block, and it was a decent mall, although slightly overpriced, even for a mall. It was a solid food court however, and this blog headed to Chick-Fil-A for dinner and the chance to read the complimentary USA Today this site had picked up at its hotel. It was there that this blog read that Hofstra had lost the Colonial Athletic Association's title game to UNC-Wilmington. This after having beaten George Mason in the semifinals. Amazing to look back now and see that Hofstra would miss the NCAAs, UNC-Wilmington would lose in the first round, and George Mason went to the Final Four. A very amazing sequence of events had been set in motion.

Pun City headed back to the Arena to see the men's title game, pitting hometown favorite Oral Roberts against upstart Chicago State. The Arena filled up almost entirely with ORU fans. Despite this, Chicago State took a 34-33 lead into halftime before the Golden Eagles went on a 37-15 run and cruised to victory. This blog sat next to a couple crazy, die-hard ORU fans that, to paraphrase CSTV, "Never Graduated." Once the buzzer sounded, the facepainted duo rushed the floor with all the students, and this blog set a course for Little Rock, AR to stay the night. After listening to the postgame show on the radio, this blog hoped to somehow catch either the Sun Belt championship game or the Horizon League final, which featured UW-Milwaukee, one of this blog's hometown favorites.

The closest this blog came to either was catching an extremely static-laced feed of the Sun Belt game that was proving to be a blowout for South Alabama over Western Kentucky. Since this blog much prefers the WKU Hilltoppers, this was not prime listening. No play-by-play of the UWM-Butler game could be found on the dial, but this blog was somehow able to get a solid signal from Chicago that would report the scores every half hour. So this site was able to crudely follow the UWM game and heard that the Panthers had won shortly after their buzzer sounded.

When pulling into the Super 8 in Little Rock, this blog found that the hotel was not in the most affluent section of town. Based on the previous negative experience with Super 8 on this trip, Pun City was not at all hopeful when checking in. However, this hotel proved to be the best room and overall hotel experience on the trip. A king-sized bed, refrigerator in the room, over 100 channels, and a very clean and somewhat higher-end bathroom were an awesome change of pace. It was almost a shame this blog was only there for one night.

A big day was coming up tomorrow, however, as this blog was going to the opening round of the Conference USA tournament at the FedEx Forum in Memphis. Back to a somewhat larger conference, arguably the biggest conference so far.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

University of Tulsa Parking: A Golden Headache

Back to the 6th day of the trip. March 7th. Still in Tulsa, now for the championship. Actually championships, because the women are set to play their championship as well, and this blog had tickets.

First off, this blog figured it should head down to the University of Tulsa to check out its basketball court, as long as it was right there. It would also be a good primer for the next day, since Pun City was going to see Tulsa's conference (Conference USA) next. Tulsa plays at the Donald W. Reynolds Center, which is a very cool building. This blog was pleasantly surprised by the arena, it's really among the top tier of college basketball facilities this site has been to.

The only problem with the TU campus is that one needs a parking permit for everywhere. This blog couldn't even find a stadium lot that didn't require a pass at 11:00 in the morning. Finally this blog found an open spot in front of the campus church (6 blocks away) that didn't require any pass. Stadium was very accessible once this blog walked the mile and a half, was able to walk all around the arena after entering through the ticket entrance. After a self-guided tour, this blog went to the ticket booth, woke up the student employee and asked for directions to the bookstore. Nothing too impressive, but the student union looked pretty cool. Of note was the giant picture of Tulsa's WAC Championship and Elite 8 team with head coach Bill Self from 2000.

Off to the Mid-Con tournament at Union High School for 1 women's championship, 1 men's championship, and a bunch more fun. Pun City will return sometime before next Tuesday to complete the day. Would the eventual Mid-Con Women's champ be led by a very hott sharpshooter? Would this blog catch more free merchandise? Would the Mid-Con Men's champ be a hometown favorite? Find out all this and more on the next edition of the X-Treme Trip Report!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Horizon League Adds Valparaiso: On A Mission From God

Valparaiso has announced they will be moving into the Horizon League starting with the 2007-2008 academic and athletic year. What does this mean from a men's basketball standpoint?

From Valparaiso's perspective:

-Joining the Horizon League is a move up in the ranks for Valpo. In the last 2 seasons, Valparaiso's old conference, the Mid-Continent, has finished 25th and 28th, respectively, in Conference RPI. By contrast, the Horizon League has finished 19th and 15th. This gives VU at least a chance at an at-large bid, something that was non-existent in the Mid-Con (short of scheduling and somehow defeating most of a brutal non-conference schedule). Though the Horizon League hasn't had an at-large bid since 2003, and that was their first since they had 3 representatives in 1998, UW-Milwaukee would have made a strong case for at-large status this year if it had lost out on the league's automatic bid. By contrast, the Mid-Continent Conference last sent an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament in 1991. The Mid-Con hasn't had a seed as low as 12 since 1997.

-Getting away from RPI-killers like Southern Utah and Centenary twice a year can only help Valparaiso's strength of schedule. The Crusaders have actually struggled the last two years, losing at least one game to a conference foe ranked 278th or worse in RPI. Any loss like that has proven to drop a team's RPI by at least 20 places. When you can take out 4+ games per year against very statistically weak competition, RPI will only improve. Even if Valparaiso decided its matchups with, say, Western Illinois were something they wanted to continue, they'd most likely only play once a year, and Valpo would even have a good chance of getting more home games in the scheduling contract because they bring a stronger RPI and should not have to face inferior opponents on the road.

-Valparaiso will now have more non-conference scheduling options. Because they will still be looked at as a fairly "weak" team, their conference schedule will bring them some padding against sinking too low in the RPI. Teams in some of the higher mid-major conferences, like a Nevada in the WAC, Bradley in the Missouri Valley, or St. Mary's in the West Coast Conference, might consider a home-and-home matchup when previously this would have been out of the question.

-This said, Valpo might choose not to use this scheduling leverage in this fashion. Another option for them could be to force weaker teams to come into Valpo, which is also not an option that had been available to the Crusaders. Now VU has an option of bargaining 2-for-1 or 3-for-1 with lesser teams, such as teams like Stetson or Campbell from the Atlantic Sun, or UT-San Antonio or Nicholls State from the Southland. Depending on potential increased revenue, Valpo might, and this blog emphasizes the might because it doesn't like to spend other people's money, be able to pay for a guarantee game if they wanted one of those teams to come to Valpo without a return matchup. The theory of this type of scheduling would be that Valpo could rack up more wins using this strategy, which may be more impressive to a selection committee that denied a bid to Missouri State, who was ranked 19th in the RPI going into the tournament.

From the Horizon League's Perspective:

-Adding another team makes a lot of sense to the 9-team Horizon League. Their bizarre single bye/double-bye bracket was confusing to the fans watching their league, primarily when 4 teams wound up in a tie for the place occupying the 3-6 seeds.

-Though Valpo will not be as dominant in the Horizon as it had been in the Mid-Con, there is reason to believe that the Crusaders can come in and be a strong competitor. At worst, this blog thinks that Valpo can fill in somewhere between 3rd and 6th in the league.

-As far as name recognition and even international acclaim, the Horizon picks up a very nice feather for its cap. No team has been able to parlay a single tournament run as effectively as Valparaiso has with it's 1997 team. While Bryce Drew's shot was one of the most indelible moments in recent NCAA history, the fact is that Valpo hasn't won an NCAA tournament game since. Despite this, an entire generation of fans knows who they are based on coach Homer Drew's down-to-earth, extremely friendly personality and his willingness to Crusade for Valpo in the national media. Additionally, VU's international recruiting strategy has unearthed a goldmine of talent, as Drew's personality transcends nationality. African or European prospects have heard about as much about Valpo as Duke, North Carolina, or UCLA, so Drew has found a great way to stockpile talent and level the playing field at least in one recruiting cache.

From the Mid-Continent Conference's Perspective:

-Rough. Valpo was definitely a cornerstone of the league and a charter member. Valparaiso was the one exception in a league that repeatedly had its stronger teams migrate to better conferences, and now they are out.

-Oral Roberts will have to carry the load for this conference. While Oakland, Chicago State, and UMKC could possibly fit in with stronger conferences, ORU will now have to become the class of the conference. Losing 6 seniors this year will not bode well for ORU's prospects, however getting Caleb Green back is a significant boost. When this conference is among the worst in the nation with Valparaiso, the outlook is not good for when it is Valpo-less.

-The loss of Valparaiso leaves the conference with 8 teams. They have a few options here. First is to keep 8. Currently the 9th-place regular season team does not qualify for the conference tournament, so in the 8-team scenario, all 8 teams would have new life when the conference tournament began. The other options involve adding 1 to 5 teams. An obvious choice to replace VU from a geographical standpoint would be Independent Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne. The Mastodons are only about 100 miles away from Valparaiso, which is actually closer to potential conference foes Oakland and IUPUI.

-Because the conference is so spread-out, the Mid-Con could pick up teams from almost anywhere in the country. Multiple Independent schools exist that are no more of a stretch than already exists in a conference that has teams from Utah to Michigan and everywhere in between. Possibilities could include Utah Valley State, South Dakota State, North Dakota State, and Texas-Pan American. So if the Mid-Con wanted to add 5 teams, they're probably available for the asking. Given the low quality of play in the bottom of the league, it would be hard to argue that these independents did not meet minimum talent requirements for league admission.

-If this blog were consulting with the Mid-Con (from solely a men's basketball standpoint), it would probably suggest adding IPFW and UTPA. Adding 4 teams might make the biggest splash though, so throwing in the two Dakota schools would be a good way of Fanning the flames of publicity.

So some very interesting consequences to a seemingly unimportant migration.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Fresh Visa Commercials

Anyone remember those old Visa commercials where they described a cool place that only took Visa? This blog was thinking of those recently, and much to it's dismay, this site was unable to find an example out there showing these. This is somewhat unfortunate, but hopefully these parodies at least can communicate the essence of the originals (although it helps to have the guy's voice that always did those).

"708 Breese Terrace in Madison is home to some of the wildest Frat parties this side of Lambda Lambda Lambda. Featuring 2 kegs in back, 3 on the deck, and standing room only in the living room; 708 can satisfy hundreds of partygoers' thirst for Milwaukee's Best. Costing a cool Five Dollars for entry, cups are free, the Breese Terrace landmark has hosted such celebrities as Tom Wopat, Scott Van Pelt, and Kirk Herbstreit. Guests can always expect a well pumped tap, neon light decor, and a pyramid of Pabst cans by the fridge. So leave your tastebuds at home, but bring your Visa Card. Because at 708 Breese Terrace, they may have to rally their roommate at 8:00 PM, but they don't take...American Express."

"Raul's Bodega is one of the finest purveyors of cannabis you will ever find. Just off the beaten path in Spanish Harlem, Raul's may not stand out, but it definitely helps its customers smoke out. If you're looking for Maui Wauwie, Acapulco Red, or Zacatecas Purple, they've got you covered. Though operating under the pretenses of a legitimate market, patrons realize this shop hasn't sold a canned good since the Reagan administration. But business is still blazing because of their 'special' products, if you know what they mean. So if you want to be part of one of the biggest growth industries in the black market, be sure to bring your lighter and your Visa Card, because at Raul's Bodega, they don't take...American Express."

This blog isn't quite sure why these type of commercials aren't around, but it'd definitely be a cool pair of commercials to see hurtling across Pun City's TV screen.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Oral Roberts Basketball: A Religious Experience

March 6th (5th day of the trip) - Chillin' in Tulsa, Oklahoma. First chance to really soak in the monolithic John Q. Hammons Arena. A high school gym, which is unreal. Among the more amazing attributes was a team shop that rivals many professional teams' stores. A local that was in charge of parking (Free! Yes!) told Pun City that the Union school district has extraordinarily high property taxes. An apartment in another area of Tulsa usually goes for about $450 a month, and within Union's district, the same type would go for $690.

A very nice facility for a college, easily the best facility this blog has ever seen at the high school level. Not surprising that it was hosting a college tournament after having seen it live. But the awesome part, as mentioned before, was that high school prices still ruled the day.

This blog visited the Oral Roberts campus in the morning, and it was a very cool campus. Somewhat hard to miss with the giant statue of praying hands at its entrance. Was able to nose around their basketball arena also, though they were cleaning up from a church service the day before. In spite of this, this blog was still able to grab the basketball rim (second Mid-Con school's rim, after Valparaiso, that Pun City has been able to grab). The ORU staff was extremely friendly, as one might expect from a Christian school. While the weather at the time was nice, because of the lack of shade on campus, this blog assumes that the Oklahoma heat would be pretty miserable in the summer.

This blog is not a fan of women's basketball in the least, but it had a good portion of the day to kill in Tulsa, and there was a couple semifinal games that this blog already had tickets for (package deal with the men's tickets). So, after a quick lunch at Sonic, Pun City was headed to a couple women's games.

The first of these was Western Illinois vs. Valparaiso. Western Illinois is somewhat unusual because their men's and women's teams have different names, but the same mascot. The women are known as the Westerwinds, and the men are called the Leathernecks. The mascot is a bulldog-looking dog that walks around with a snarl on its face, while simultaneously looking vaguely like a human boxer.

Some Game notes:

-About as empty as you'd expect for a women's basketball game at noon on a Monday. Maybe 100 in attendance, and that's being generous.

-NCAA's official mascot, JJ Jumper, was in the house, and this blog got a set of beads with his logo on them from Sir Jumper. Also got to see the most dancin'-est mascot in sports mash the bass boost on his jam box while crushing some 10-year-olds in musical chairs.

-The entire Valparaiso men's team was at the game cheering for their women's team, this site was able to get autographs from head coach Homer Drew and assistant (and March Madness legend) Bryce Drew. Homer was as nice as he is usually portrayed in the media, and Bryce was pretty cool too, taking time to sign while on his cell phone.

-This blog caught a t-shirt and an ice cream sandwich from the Valparaiso cheerleaders.

-WIU's band played Beyonce's "Crazy In Love," that was about the only unique song for either band.

Second game was Oakland University vs. IUPUI, and the 7th-seeded OU made it to the final.

-Entire Oakland Men's team was there despite being eliminated the evening before. Possibly because men's head coach Greg Kampe was also the interim Athletic Director.

-IUPUI's band brought a punching bag in the shape of a referee to the game, and would punch it occasionally as deemed necessary.

-They also played "She's Got It" and "Pretty Fly For A White Guy."

After those games, headed a couple blocks away to Westland Hills Mall, which is an alright mall, despite being slightly overpriced. The night session was the 2 men's semifinal games, Valparaiso vs. Oral Roberts and Chicago State vs. IUPUI.

-The second Marquette transfer of the trip, Ron Howard, started what would be his last collegiate game for Valparaiso.

-"Home" crowd for Oral Roberts was pretty raucous.

-Buzzer problems persisted.

-Chicago State pulled off its second upset of the tournament to get into the final.

Then another night of watching WCC basketball at the hotel before both the men's and women's finals the next day.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Two On The Continuation

Alright. Back in action. Previously on Pun City..... So Pun City headed out of the Savvis Center, through the torrents in St. Louis and out to this blog's car, which was parked at Union Station, a very compact but convenient mall a couple blocks away from the Savvis Center. This blog had previously checked it out, and recommends it to anyone that ends up in downtown St. Louis. (A pretty quick side trip from the Gateway Arch).

Despite the substantial rain, this blog navigated itself out of St. Louis successfully. Since this blog had been in town for 4 days, so it had a few "go-to" radio stations. This came especially in handy for the long drive ahead. First, the local sports radio Post-game show carried this blog out of town, and since Pun City had been rooting for Southern Illinois, it was good to hear. Once the festivities had died down, this site was able to switch over to FM for some top-40 stuff, and that not only took this site out of St. Louis, but also out of the rain.

This blog was finding out that the Ozarks are occasionally tough to climb in a Malibu. Not having much experience in mountain driving, this blog would rate the drive from St. Louis to Tulsa as the 2nd-highest this blog has negotiated, and maximum posted speeds were not always possible. (The highest, by far, was Anaheim to Reno).

But an awesome part of the drive was mid-Missouri sports talk radio. Primarily because they discussed college basketball, and only college basketball. On the agenda for that day was: 1. The number of MVC teams that deserved at-large bids to the NCAA tournament; and specifically 2. Whether Missouri State was among the deserving group. The general consensus was that 6 could get in, 5 MVC teams should get in, and 4 would get in. Missouri State's position was very perilous as the 5th-best MVC resume. This blog thought MSU was deserving of a bid, actually just about a lock as far as Pun City was concerned. (4 got in, not including Missouri State, who became, by far, the highest-ranked RPI team in history to miss the tournament - 19th).

Most hilarious was the local rivalries of the callers. Missouri State had just gotten its name changed last year from "Southwest Missouri State" to "Missouri State" after a long time trying. Fans of their Arch-Rival (hiyo!), the Southeast Missouri State Indians, called in and referred to MSU as "SMS," the Bears' old abbreviation. After that happened, irate MSU fans called in and discussed SEMO's 5-20 season. Through all of it, discouraged Missouri Tigers fans remained silent since the smaller schools could tee off on their lousy season.

About halfway through Missouri, this blog needed gas, so it pulled off an exit to fuel up. There were two visable gas stations, one slightly in the direction this blog had come from (east), the other slightly west of the crossroad. The prices on the western station were decisively lower, (approximately 10 cents cheaper), so this blog decided to pull in there. This blog soon found out that the cheaper gas station had gone out of business recently, and thusly no longer offered gasoline. Not excruciatingly low on gas, this blog figured it would just follow the side road west, which would keep the car headed in the right direction while also theoretically finding cheaper gas than the first station. Unfortunately, the small town ended shortly after the defunct gas station, meaning that this blog had to follow the side road into the next town. No big deal, this blog thought, should just be a couple miles up, this road seems to follow the highway pretty well. Alas, it was more challenging than initially thought. The "frontage road" then meandered south, turning into a one-lane road for about a quarter-mile stretch. Additionally, the road was encompassed by fairly dense forest and sporatic shacks along the roadside. This blog was glad none of the locals noticed Pun City, since Wisconsin license plates certainly would be uncommon on that particular road.

Well at any rate, the road did end up going to the next town, and there was a gas station there, although this last station had more expensive gas than the first station this blog had gone to all this trouble to avoid. So a slight bummer on that front. The race to Tulsa continued though, and this blog arrived at John Q. Hammons Arena.........

.....With 3:51 left in the first half of the UMKC-Chicago State quarterfinal. At this gigantic high school gym, the buzzer got stuck in the "blare" position for about 2 minutes. While annoying, it provided some humor as fans were obviously thrilled with the incessant loud noise.

The High School arena, and this blog can't stress that enough, had a 4-screen replay scoreboard! This blog's seats were in the third row under the hoop, and it was nice to see some more basketball after the long drive. But nicest of all were the high school concession prices. Getting a brat and a large soda for $5.00 when that amount would have just gotten this site a hot dog at the Savvis Center was a relief.

Number-3 seeded UMKC had opened up a 17-point lead on 6th-seeded CSU in the second half, and this looked like Rout City, USA. However, Chicago State launched a furious comeback and ended up winning rather handily, despite point guard Royce Parron's unnecessary And1 Mixtape move on a fast break.

Parron had a breakaway steal, then decided it would be a good idea to wrap a dribble all the way around his back, then bounce it back to the same hand in one motion. This was all well and good, earning him much street cred, except for the fact that it was an obvious travelling call and in turn a complete waste of two points in a close game.

Humorous anyway. This blog supposes that having fun is a big part of basketball, and the Cougars won, so no harm was done. But a definite head-scratcher at the time. After the game, headed back to a new hotel, caught some West Coast Conference action on the tube, and called it a night. It was a Sunday night, and this blog had the entire next week off to watch basketball.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Post Haste

Uh, sorry yo. Last-minute Brewer game came up. Barring any calamities, tomorrow will bring a full post. In the meantime, this site believes there had been a previous request for a picture of this blog's closet, so here it is. The hats are on the floor, t-shirts are up on the hanging bar. At the time of these photos, this blog was drying laundry, so that explains the presence of polo shirts on the closet door. Catch you tomorrow after this blog catches some Zs.