2009 is a little over two weeks old, the temperature here in Chicago is somewhere south of ten below zero (once it hits ten below, I stop counting), college basketball teams are nearing the end of the second week of conference play and the Drive and Dish editorial board has decided to press its writers to spend Friday night working on the year's first edition of our ever popular Tidbits feature.
It's worth mentioning that Drive and Dish has been forced to downsize its writing staff; Mark Buckets and the content generating/research conducting/image searching/blog post writing interns have moved on. Trashtalk Superstar remains as the lone writer on the Drive and Dish payroll. All twelve members of the editorial board remain on the payroll, as do all the members of the corporate board. But as for writers and copy editors, Trashtalk Superstar is left to hold down the fort by himself (although the 21 year old, Long Island Iced Tea guzzling, table dancing, Pussycat Doll impersonating interns remain on staff, of course).
Unfortunately, the period of time encompassing the holidays, the end of the year and the start of the new year presented Trashtalk Superstar with several major challenges to his time management skills. Simply, Trashtalk Superstar has been extremely busy, and hasn't had much time to watch, think about, or write about basketball. Thus, as the college basketball season has heated up, Drive and Dish has been unusually quiet.
But although the challenges to Trashtalk Superstar's time management skills are likely to continue for several more days, the Drive and Dish editorial board is demanding new content.
So without further ado, Drive and Dish and the time pressed Trashtalk Superstar present the maiden edition of Tidbits for 2009:
1.- Thursday night, #18 Minnesota beat Wisconsin 78-74 in overtime at the Kohl Center in Madison, WI. It was a huge win for second year head coach Tubby Smith's upstart Minnesota basketball program. Remember, it's really tough to win a road game at Wisconsin. With the win, Minnesota becomes only the third team to beat the Badgers on their home court in Bo Ryan's eight seasons as Wisconsin's head coach.
Minnesota was down by 14 points midway through the second half, and trailed by six points with just over 40 seconds to play. But the Gophers mounted a furious comeback to tie the game and send it to overtime.
Minnesota continues to demonstrate that they're for real. They're still not getting much shine nationally, but they're getting it done on the court night after night.
Minnesota may not be on the national media's radar, but Drive and Dish has nothing but love for the Gophers. More here.
2.- Thursday night, North Carolina avoided its first 0-3 start in ACC play since the 1996/97 season by hammering Virginia 83-61 on Virginia's home court in Charlottesville, VA (1996/97 was Dean Smith's last season as head coach at North Carolina). North Carolina started ACC play by losing at home to Boston College and losing at Wake Forest. Drive and Dish discussed the Wake Forest vs. North Carolina game here.
Prior to their loss to Boston College, the Tar Heels had been undefeated and ranked #1 in the nation.
North Carolina may have stumbled out of the blocks at the start of conference play, but they remain a legitimate Final Four (and potential national championship) contender. The Heels have an outstanding point guard in Ty Lawson, a pair of deft wing scorers in Wayne Ellison and Danny Green, and a strong inside game courtesy of 2008 Wooden Award winner Tyler Hansbrough. North Carolina may not be blessed with the kind of depth that their 2005 National Championship team had (particularly in the paint), but they have a balanced offense and four starters who will likely play in the NBA.
Drive and Dish does not expect North Carolina to play in the National Championship game, but we wouldn't be surprised if the Tar Heels make another trip to the Final Four.
3.- Also on Thursday night, Purdue survived a scare at Northwestern by coming from behind to beat the Wildcats 63-61.
Purdue committed 22 turnovers and only took their first lead of the game with 1:09 remaining before the final buzzer. Clearly, it wasn't their best night. But make no mistake: Northwestern had a big hand in Purdue's struggles. The Wildcats played nearly flawless for 35 minutes. Unfortunately for the 'Cats, they couldn't keep it up in the game's last five minutes.
With the loss, Northwestern fell to 0-4 in the Big Ten, and 8-6 overall. Northwestern had looked like a much improved basketball team at the beginning of the season. And they even pulled off a convincing upset of Florida State -- a likely NCAA Tournament participant -- in last month's ACC/Big Ten Challenge. But the start of conference play has been unkind to the Wildcats. Thursday night's game provided Northwestern with a golden opportunity to regain momentum and potentially stave off another year of finishing with a disappointing Big Ten record. But they dropped the ball at the end of the game.
Beating Purdue would have served as a statement game to the other teams in the Big Ten and as a confidence builder for the Wildcats players. Northwestern is clearly good enough to knock off good teams. But when teams play their hearts out, yet fall just short of winning big games -- as Northwestern did against Purdue -- the players risk losing confidence and losing hope ... which Northwestern seems to do at some point each season.
Northwestern has never played in the NCAA Tournament. Drive and Dish has been waiting for years to see the Wildcats get to the Big Dance. It looks like we'll be waiting indefinitely.
4.- Since we're talking about the Big Ten, it's worth mentioning that the league is much improved this year. When Tubby Smith and John Beilein took over at Minnesota and Michigan, respectively, Drive and Dish knew that it wouldn't be long before the Gophers and Wolverines were back in the business of winning basketball games and playing in NCAA Tournaments. And when Indiana ditched Kelvin Sampson and welcomed Tom Crean to Bloomington, we knew that, although IU would be in store for some dark days, the Hoosiers would not be down for long (unfortunately for IU, Kelvin Sampson left Crean with quite a mess to clean up; it will take the Crean at least a year or two to get that program back on track).
But what we didn't expect was Illinois' quick resurgence and Penn State's sudden discovery of the game of basketball. Sure, we knew that Bruce Weber was a very good coach, and we expected that he would eventually get the Illini back to prominence. But we figured that the rebirth of Illinois basketball would hinge on the development of big men Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis, as well as the development of point guard Demetri McCamey. And we expected those players to continue to experience some growing pains in 2008/09. The rapid development of Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale has caught us by surprise, as it has the rest of the Big Ten and the national media.
The Big Ten is back. And with Tom Izzo at Michigan State, Bo Ryan at Wisconsin, Bruce Weber at Illinois, recruiting wizard Thad Matta at Ohio State, and now Tubby Smith at Minnesota, John Beilein at Michigan and Tom Crean at Indiana, the Big Ten has some really top rate coaches helming most of its programs (Northwestern's Bill Carmody is a very good coach as well; the Wildcats' struggles don't stem from coaching ineptitude ... Penn State's Ed DeChellis and Purdue's Matt Painter may well be outstanding coaches too, but they will have to produce more of a body of work before Drive and Dish includes them in the same league with the aformentioned coaches).
5.-- Speaking of Illinois, Sports Illustrated has a feature on Mike Davis and the resurgent Illini.
6.-- Former Chicago Bulls radio studio host Carmen DeFalco will apparently join the afternoon drive show at Chicago's ESPN AM radio 1000, after the controversial and temperamental Dan McNeil has been shown the door and will no longer be part of the "Mac, Jurko and Harry" show.
McNeil has never liked basketball, and even used to refuse to talk about basketball on the air. He used to drop out of the conversation, and sometimes leave the room, when his radio partners John Jurkovic and Harry Teinowitz would talk about hoops.
DeFalco, the former ESPN 1000 Bulls broadcast studio host, is very basketball friendly, although his basketball acumen remains in question. I used to listen to many a Bulls game on the radio, but I was always put off by DeFalco's homerism and cheerleading for what was a moribund basketball franchise. Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler, Jalen Rose, Jamal Crawford, Eddie Robinson, Dalibor Bagaric, Chris Antsey and the rest of the Bulls' former cast of wash-outs, vagabonds, and malcontents would go through the motions and get blown out game after game, but Carmen DeFalco would always tell Bulls fans that the Bulls were just about to break out and take the league by storm.
Game after game. Year after year.
I'm not hating on Carmen DeFalco, I'm just saying that he used to be, more or less, in the business of selling dog excrement sandwiches to Bulls fans. I will admit, though, that I've heard him make some quite intelligent basketball comments in recent years.
On a personal note, I started listening to sports talk radio in the summers when I worked in my family business' factory. The sports talk made the hours of monotonous drill press and assembly line work fly by. I got hooked on Chicago's "The Score" and continued listening to sports talk radio through college and for several years beyond. I eventually migrated from the all-local sports talk "Score" to the national sports focused ESPN radio because of ESPN's outstanding coverage of college football and basketball (even though I had originally disliked ESPN radio -- national sports radio in general). However, over the last couple of years, I've more or less stopped listening to sports talk radio. I still occasionally flip on ESPN radio on weekends, but I'm not very connected to the world of the sports talkers anymore.
But Dan McNeil's departure from the "Mac, Jurko, and Harry" show -- a show which he helped start, and which bears his name -- is worth mentioning, if only because McNeil has been so temperamental and difficult over the years. I don't know how many times Dan McNeil got suspended from the air for disciplinary reasons, but it seemed like he was suspended at least once a month for the entire 9 years he was on the air at ESPN 1000. At least one (but possibly more) of those suspensions was for punching or otherwise physically assaulting his radio partner, uber-nebbish Harry Teinowitz. Prior to McNeil's arrival at AM 1000 (McNeil joined the station after getting fired from "The Score 670"), he had served countless suspensions at the Score.
7.-- Finally, the NCAA has determined that 7th graders can officially be classified as college basketball prospects. Somewhere, Kentucky head coach Billy Gillispie must be smiling (although Gillispie's smile could be alcohol-related).
Since it has nothing to do with basketball, the following story about Consuelo Guenther, a half naked, drunken Wisconsin woman who pulled her pants down and ran through an IHOP, didn't make the cut for Tidbits. It is, however, worth posting.
"Half naked woman runs through IHOP with pants pulled down, wrecks car."