Friday, March 23, 2007

Friday's Off The Wall Blog: Bittersweet Ending Edition

I believed 'til the last second. When Tony Young launched that desperation three pointer from around half court I hoped it would find the bottom of the net and would send SIU to overtime. It didn't, and SIU went home with a 61-58 loss to Kansas.

I stood in stunned disbelief, I couldn't believe what just happened. We were so close. I'm sure experts wanted to predict a KU blowout, but couldn't out of respect to SIU. No one expected us to be this close---at one point I believe we had a 6 point lead. But it was such a back-and-forth game, anyone who watched figured that it would come down to the final possession.

Despite the loss, there are silver linings in the clouds this evening.
  • With their second Sweet 16 appearance this decade, SIU finished with 29 wins, the most in school history. They also finished in the top 15 of both the Associated Press Poll and the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll, and in the top 10 in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI.) Nothing to hang your head about, it was an amazing season--from start to finish.
  • With this Sweet 16 run, SIU solidified itself as not just the best of the so called "mid-majors" but a lot of people are calling them the "Gonzaga of the Midwest" which is a much higher complement than being the next George Mason. Gonzaga, a private West Coast university known primarily for being John Stockton's alma mater and a perennial Cinderella school, has solidified itself over the last decade as a "mid-major" powerhouse to the point where people are expecting the Bulldogs to be in the tournament every year. SIU's made the tourney the last seven years and are on the verge of being a program, not just another school. Randal Falker put it best when he said (and I'm paraphrasing) that as good as it is to break the records of the last great team he can't wait until this team's records are broken---that's how you know the program is still successful.
  • In addition to building this university's basketball team into a basketball program (and I'll get to the difference between a team and a program in a later blog because it's worthy of it's own blog), this Sweet 16 run also has put SIU firmly in the spotlight. Not only in this state, but nationwide as well. The success of the basketball team this year gave the school free PR....good PR at that because everyone associates a good basketball school with a good university---except for Cincinnati because they don't graduate players. Not only will the hoops squad benefit, but hopefully the school will as well.
  • A really cool thing about the loss (if there is a such thing) is the press we're getting from the north. I (among countless others) have chastised the northern press for not giving the Salukis enough love. While Illinois dominated the headlines with stories of DUI's, inconsistencies and calling for Coach Bruce Weber's head---SIU was taking care of business dominating the MVC and kicking down the door of exclusivity that generally keeps prorams like ours out. DePaul (of course) gets a lot of pub from the press up north--a talented team on the rise in the rigorous Big East Conference. They earned their press by making it to the final eight of the NIT, coming one point short of the semi-finals in New York City's Madison Square Garden. Loyola, Northwestern, UIC, NIU all got their fair share of publicity....but only U of I and SIU were dancing in March. We got ours in the end.
  • Personally, I don't believe in moral victories. In my book, it's either a win or a loss. There is no column for "moral victories." But in a situation like this, I guess you just have to tip your hat to Kansas and take the moral victory, along with the pats on the back from the media. Jay Mariotti has been praising SIU for a while now, saying in today's article that he has never been more impressed with a team on the short end of the stick. I think that Mariotti is used to the sore loser mentallity brought upon by Ozzie Guillen and Dusty Baker in recent baseball years. That article is a must read. The Trib's Mike Downey also sang our praises and metioned the dreaded "moral victory." In the end, all the press SIU has gotten recently can only be good. Maybe it will get kids up north interested in playing for SIU. Who wouldn't want to play for the next big thing, a team that is consistently winning and seemingly on the rise. What kid wouldn't want to come to school here where the weather hits 80 degrees in mid-March when in Chicago it's fiftysomething if you're lucky.
  • In the end, if you're a student or a fan or a distant admirer---you have just got to be proud of what the Salukis have accomplished this year. I know I am.
FRIDAY'S FIVE. Five songs on my I-pod that will hopefully get me over the loss.
  1. B.U.D.D.Y by Musiq Soulchild
  2. Pop, Lock & Drop It by Huey
  3. Pose by Justin Timberlake (featuring Snoop Dogg)
  4. This Is Why I'm Hot by MIMS
  5. War Remix by Nas featuring The Game
FRIDAY'S FIVE OLD SCHOOL EDITION. Because maybe some old school tracks will make me feel better.
  1. California Girls by The Beach Boys
  2. Papa's Got A Brand New Bag (Pt. 1) by James Brown
  3. Gangster of Love by Johnny "Guitar" Watson
  4. These Arms of Mine by Otis Redding
  5. Living For The Love of You by The Isley Brothers

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Ready For Tonight

It's nearly three hours before tip-off, and I'm excited. So excited, it's nearly indescribable.

For the first time since 2002, SIU is in the Sweet 16 and will be looking for the biggest win in the history of the university tonight against the Kansas Jayhawks. This isn't just a game, this is the game. A victory tonight would without a doubt put SIU on the college basketball map for good. It would solidify SIU as the best basketball school in the state. It would be the stepping stone of bigger and better things to come.

And if they lose?

SIU's 29 victories this year is already a school record. The positive press that SIU has been getting because of the hoops squad can only help the university's public relations. And with top recruits in the pipeline for at least the next two-to-three years, SIU basketball is (and will be in good shape.)

Tonight's game against Kansas is not just another game, I cannot stress that enough. KU is one of the premier basketball schools in the entire country. They're the No. 1 seed in the West bracket and are the No. 2 team in the country. KU has all the talent in the world. They have the size, speed, strength and raw talent edge over SIU. Their squad is filled with potential NBA draft picks and McDonald's All-Americans coming off their bench. KU has everything to be a National Championship contender every year. With that said, I'm sure most "experts" are picking KU in a blow out.

Not if SIU has anything to say about it. Where SIU lacks in talent, size and raw skill--they make up with hustle, grit, determination, defense and smarts. SIU has the edge in experience lead by senior leaders, guards Jamaal Tatum and Tony Young. 6-foot-7 forward Randal Falker has gone toe-to-toe with guys bigger than him, including 7-foot NBA lottery pick Patrick O'Bryant who was selected by the Golden State Warriors. O'Bryant was on Bradley's squad last year that upset KU in the first round.

So what does that mean for tonight? Well, for starters it's the ultimate game of contrasts. KU is going to want to make this game a track meet, trying to make missed jump shots into easy transition points as often as possible. SIU is going to try to slow the game tempo. Forcing KU to defend deep into the shot clock when on the offensive end, and pressuring the Jayhawks at every chance with the much ballyhooed third ranked defense that allows only 56.1 points per game.

Offensively, the Egyptian Hunting Dawgs will rely heavily on Tatum to make key decisions and key shots. He has matured so much since I've been here at SIU. The wild-card in tonight's game is the health of Matt Shaw. Shaw, like KU's Brandon Rush (6-foot-5) and Julian Wright (6-foot-8), causes match-up problems by being a 6-foot-7 player that can play both down low in the post, but can also drain mid-to-long range jump shots. Shaw hasn't played since the first half of the Holy Cross game where at the end of the half he suffered a high ankle sprain. If Shaw can't go, SIU will most likely go with the hero of the HC game 6-foot-8 forward Tony Boyle.

The best thing about KU is that they're human. And if there's anything I've learned in my life as a sports fan, it's that on any given day any team can beat another. Take this take from
  • ...will lose when: The defense doesn't allow Kansas to notch a handful of easy baskets. At times this is a team whose perimeter shooting simply disappears, and if transition buckets are hard to come by, the offense can experience damaging dry spells.
As for my prediction, you know where my heart lies. The problem is that not only do I believe that SIU can win, I think they will win. It's not false hope. It's not wishing on a star. It's a belief based on statistics and SIU's play all year.

  1. Stay out of foul trouble. That's key for both Falker and Tatum. Falker especially if Shaw is unable to perform at a high level. SIU doesn't have much size depth behind No. 14, and the offense tends to struggle if either he or Tatum are out or ineffective.
  2. Don't let KU get easy buckets. Easier said than done, but if KU can't get easy transition points and is having an iffy shooting night, they are definitely beatable.
  3. Get On The D! Stay On The D! SIU must play nearly flawless on the defensive end to give themselves a shot to win. But they can't afford to foul!
  4. Bench production. SIU must "steal" minutes from guys like Wesley Clemmons, Tyrone Green, Joshua Bone, maybe even Jamaal Foster and Boyle if he doesn't start.
  5. And finally....just go out there and have fun. All of the pressure is on KU. The last two years they've lost to "mid-majors" Bucknell and Bradley---so it's not as if they are unbeatable. The Dawgs have a slight edge in the intangibles department with Tatum and Young playing like it will be their last game, because it very well might be.
Hope for some positive notes after the game. Let's Go Dawgs.

P.S. KU has lost to a No. 4 seed before in the Sweet 16. Note Arizona's victory in the 1997 tourney. I know, we're not 'Zona....but can Jamaal Tatum be Mike Bibby for just one night?

In closing, I can't help but to quote a former Cubs manager "Why Not Us? Why Not Now?"


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Lesson Learned: Spring Break Edition

I'll be the first to say that I love vacation time in college. It's a time where I get away from school work which makes me happy. It gets me out of small town Carbondale, which also generally makes me happy. I get to go home and enjoy meals that are cooked for me and that's always great. I can go on and on with the little things I love about breaks, but arguably the thing I look forward to the most is the time with my friends.

Which is why I was shocked to hear that my cousin was upset with me after I went back to school after Winter Break. He was upset with me because I stopped keeping contact with him after my return to Carbondale and that upset him because for New Year's he ditched going to the bars in favor of hanging out with me which is something he really didn't have to do but did anyway. In my defense I'll admit that when I go back to Carbondale I do sometimes pull a disappearing act and do not keep good contact with the Chi-town peeps and for that I suck.

But I was bothered that it upset him. It was more like I was upset that I did that to him because really I'm not in the business of losing friends because my friends are people who know me and are close to me and I appreciate everyone of them. I'll go on the record of saying losing friends sucks. Losing contact with friends sucks. I'll also go on the record of saying sometimes things change and people change. That also sucks.

That brings me to tonights blog---and the back story to my cousin's comments.

He says I've changed since I've gone to Carbondale. That I'm really not the same person I was in high school. That I've lost touch with my roots. Those three statements have had me thinking all throughout break.

I'll agree that I've changed since I've come to SIU. Some of it is good change, some of it is bad. In retrospect, I can see where I've changed for the good; but unfortunately I've changed a little bit and it has not been good change---so I can see where people who say that would be coming from.

I'd also agree that I'm not the same person I was in high school--to some extent. I think one of my bad characteristics from high school have followed me into college. I'll admit one of my personal flaws is that eternal hope of certain situations coming through. And though that faded towards the end of high school, I've had to remind myself (this year specifically) that my life isn't a fairytale, nor is it fiction---it's real---and the outcomes I want won't come just because I want them or just because I wish for them. Sometimes you just have to play with the cards that are dealt to you and just let go of the hope. Letting go of the hope is something I've (again) failed to do. I thought I got over that in high school, obviously I haven't. I'm trying to do it again here and yes there will be some sacrifices but I think anyone who reads this will (hopefully) support my decisions especially if they benefit me in the end.

Another reason I'm not the same person I was in high school is because college life has jilted me. Should I have expected it? Yes. Did I? No. A lot of things about the way things have happened here at SIU have totally caught me off guard. People. Their motivations. Hidden agendas. One of the things I've realized about college is that it's not really school---yes, there is education---but college is more like a cutthroat business ran by amateurs. And if you're not ready for it, the ones who you hold close will go behind your back and take what you want. Unfortunately for me, I'm open with a lot of people and I believe that has cost me at SIU. I've learned from my mistakes (I hope) and again I must move on from that.

The consensus of people who know me, whether it be from SIU or from Chicago, is that I'm a bitter young man which is sometimes entertaining, sometimes depressing....but always a cause for concern---especially those who believe that they know good things are in my future.

The statement I agree most with is that I've lost touch with my roots. Personally I've changed a lot in the past few years. I remember coming to school being motivated by the doubts of others which is what really got me through Freshman year. But with success "doubters" left and a sense of not caring came over me because I felt that I had nothing to prove. Unfortunately I've taken a tumble when it comes to my grades, now I'm motivated again. Not by "doubters" but instead I'm self-motivated to prove to myself that I belong here and that I made the right decision coming to SIU.

Back to my roots though. Yes, I've lost touch with my roots, I'll admit it. I've lost contact with a lot of people that helped get me through high school, and I'm sorry for that. I miss them and their positive impact on my life. Don't get me wrong, I don't miss the rigors of high school---I just miss all of the people that made my high school experience worthwhile.

In the end, despite all that I said in the sections above I am the same person in a lot of aspects. I'm still the well-mannered, generally soft spoken, friendly guy who also happens to be the self-proclaimed world's biggest Cubs fan and major sports fanatic. Certain aspects have changed, but for the most part...

...I am who you thought I was.

Again, thanks to all my friends who have supported me through the good times and the bad times.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Spring Break Recap!

Alright, now I'd like to really welcome myself back to the blogging world with an official Lu-type blog which was promised early this morning in the blog about SIU. So let's get it.


Let's start with the happy moments. It was nice to get off the train and be in Chicago and not be relegated to a quick late night meal followed by an immediate bed time because of 6-hours of train nothingness. Saturday was pretty sweet, I'll admit it. I got my hair cut (for the first time since January), got some new clothes (including a spiffy outfit for the JT concert) and then I had an awesome drinking night with my guys. It was really nice cuz there was a guy that I hadn't seen in forever and it was nice to see him again. Those guys didn't leave 'til 5 a.m.

Sunday was cool because it was Selection Sunday. SIU got a nice seed (#4) and it even set up a potential match-up with the University of Illinois....but U of I choked it up in the end.

Tuesday was the big day, the day of the Justin Timberlake concert. I was upset because I didn't succeed in my goal of landing a true date for the concert but I put it past me when it came to the concert. JT is climbing his way up the ladder of becoming my idol. His concert was absolutely amazing, and that's putting it in the mildest of terms. He can sing, dance, play the electric and acoustic guitar, the keyboard thingy that looks like a guitar and the piano. His back-up dancers (the female ones of course) were absolutely drop dead gorgeous, one wore a bustier and needless to say she was breathtaking with her looks and the stripper-esque way that she moved. Favorite songs from the show: My Love (which he did the first verse in acapella ), Gone (which he did while playing the piano), What Goes Around Comes Around and Cry Me A River. Timbaland also made a guest appearance singing with JT on my favorite track Chop Me Up and on the closing song Sexy Back. He also played the music video for the collaboration between he, JT and Nelly Furtado--a song called Give It To Me--where Timbo disses Scott Storch (calling him just a piano man) and JT boasting "If sexy never left then why's everybody on my shit---don't hate on me just because you didn't come up with it." He also did "freestyle beats" on a synthesizer while on stage over several songs---highlights included "remixed" beats for Kelly Clarkson's Since U Been Gone and The Fray's Over My Head. Oh, and did I mention that Justin performed with a full band and a real microphone--no earpiece mic. Justin deserves all the credit in the world. He's an excellent performer who has come a long way from his days as a member of 'N Sync. The one downer about the show was that sometimes the booming bass drowned out JT's falsetto and that was kinda whack (i.e. during Chop Me Up) oh and he didn't do Dick In A Box because there were too many damn lil' kids there. Shit, it was past their bed time anyway. That was my disappointment.

Thursday and Friday my mind was on the NCAA Tourney though I spent those two days making money and that makes me feel pretty good about things. I was happy to see my two favorite teams, UNC and SIU advance to the Sweet 16.

Saturday I spent my day doing laundry and I actually got into my first over-21 bar in Chicago which was nice cuz it was another night with the homies.

Oooh, I also got to see the Cubs play a few Spring Training games. Oooh, and I also got to listen to the DreX show. It was great being able to listen to DreX live and all new!


An hour and a half before the show my mother and I had a big blowout argument that prompted her to give up her ticket to the concert. Things are good between us now, but then things were bad. She brought up a sore subject, basically picking a fight with me on that topic and then blamed me for not doing something she didn't give me the proper information to do. But it's all good now. My cousin Tony ended up going with me at the last minute. He was nice enough to pay for parking, Wendy's afterwards and he bought me a JT shirt.

Waking up Sunday morning for my 9 a.m. train ride after only 3 hours of sleep after a night of heavy drinking and spending $30 at the just wasn't pretty. And I missed the first half of the SIU game.


Well, that's deserving of a blog of its own. That will come tomorrow. It's worth reading, it really is. Well, i twill be worth reading once it's written.

That was my Spring Break in a nutshell.

Monday Morning's Blog: Sweet 16 Edition!

First I'd like to welcome myself back to Carbondale after a week long vacation in the wonderful city of Chicago. The vacation recap post comes later, but right now I have some business to attend to....sweet business.

It's March Madness time and though my Final Four is still intact, my bracket success hinges on my Final Four making it there in one piece. Good news on the personal level, both of my favorite teams are still in the hunt, advancing to the Sweet 16 with victories this weekend. North Carolina beat some sixteen seed and then (thankfully) beat Michigan State to advance to the round of 16. Why thankfully? Because had MSU won, I would've never heard the end of it from my roommate who is a major MSU fan.

But this blog isn't about UNC today, it's about the Southern Illinois Salukis. I remember five years ago watching SIU advance to the Sweet 16 after beating Bobby Knight's Texas Tech team and Jim Harrick's Georgia Bulldogs. I remember thinking to myself that SIU was the place that I wanted to be when I went to college and wishing I was there to be able to celebrate that feat. Well that day has come again and this time I am a proud student at The Southern Illinois University.

The Chicago Sun-Times has it right when the headline in their photo section says "The Team That Nobody Wants To Play Is Still Playing." Really, that can be taken in so many different ways. Nobody wants to play SIU's type of grind it out type of game, as described in this ESPN article. And I'm sure that there is no player that wants to play against SIU's stifling man-to-man defense.

In addition, no one wants to play us....well in the state of Illinois at least. Former SIU coach Bruce Weber (now at the University of Illinois) is adamant about not facing the Salukis, going as far as throwing the game in the last five minutes against Virginia Tech, blowing a 10 point lead in less than 4 and 1/2 mintues. (Okay that's just my theory....but Weber's tried everything in his power to avoid SIU so that makes some sense in my head...but only in my head.) According to my sources up north, SIU has tried to schedule games against Chicagoland schools DePaul and Northwestern, but no deal has been made of yet.

And of course with that "mid-major" label sticking to them, BCS schools won't play SIU claiming that playing them doesn't help them (even though Arkansas made the NCAA tourney partially because of it's win against SIU in November on a neutral court in a tournament setting.....despite going 7-9 in conference play.)

But thanks to SIU's 61-51 win against Holy Cross and their 63-48 win against Virginia Tech (who they beat in the same tourney that they lost to Arkansas in) SIU is now in the Sweet 16 and will be playing Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks on Thursday night.

One of the good things about making it to the Sweet 16 is the press that the university will get. I don't care what anyone says, if a school has good athletics it's reputation will grow as an academic university because of its national exposure through the media, hopefully SIU's tourney run will get more kids interested in coming here. I still say SIU's biggest recruiting tool (besides the parties) is the weather during the winter months.

So what does the media have to say?'s Gregg Doyle goes out of his damn way to dis the Salukis run to the Sweet 16. Granted, I don't want the George Mason comparisons but to say SIU hasn't played anyone is absolutely ridiculous. They beat Holy Cross while one of thier most consistent offensive threats (forward Matt Shaw) was on the bench nursing a high ankle sprain while much maligned reserve forward Tony Boyle picked up the slack with 14 second half points. And who did HC dethrone to make it to the dance? Media darling Bucknell who was the defending two-time Patriot league champs. What about beating Virignia Tech? VT had a chance to win the ACC outright before stumbling in the last week, beat my boys in Carolina blue (twice!) and they beat Duke (at Duke!) and I don't care that Duke's down---winning on Coach K's court is difficult no matter what the personnel is.

I will say that Doyle makes a valid point when saying that GM had to go through college basketball's "Murderer's Row" to get to the Final Four by beating Michigan State, North Carolina and UConn....but a victory against Kansas would go a far way to validating SIU being in the Sweet 16.

As for the media up north? I spent my Spring Break spreading the good word about the Salukis to anyone who would give me an open ear. Friends, family members, people in the street, people at bars---anyone and everyone. However someone has been tooting our horn recently and that is Sun-Times resident instigator Jay Mariotti. In today's column, Mariotti stirs the pot of the whole Coach Lowery leaving for greener pastures storyline by mentioning him possibly going to Michigan to replace the recently ousted Tommy Amaker. Or maybe to Minnesota, where he'd have to rebuild a down-trodden Golden Gopher program. Or who knows what other schools will have openings at the end of the year. I think SIU will do everything in its power to keep its coach, who also happens to be an SIU alum, here in Carbondale.

Last week Mariotti put out a column that didn't piss me off (amazing!) by praising C-Lo and hyping the dream match-up of SIU/Illinois which would have happened had U of I not choked in the first round against Va Tech. And then there was this:

"If SIU whips up on the Illini, who have stooped to play the Salukis only twice (1982 in Champaign and 2001 in Las Vegas, both Illinois wins), I'll do everything I can to make sure the entire state adopts Southern."

Even though it didn't happen, I still think Mariotti should do what he said---but a Mariotti endorsement can be like a backhanded complement. I'm not sure that I want it.

Pep-rally tonight at the SIU Arena for the Egyptian Hunting Dawgs at 7 p.m. It should be a fun. It's good to be wearing Saluki Maroon today!