Storms and Late Starts

It’s been many, many years since we failed to make it to at least one Illini basketball game during the season.  For me, this  streak very likely goes back decades to when I was in high school.  Yes, we’re those kind of fans…  So when I looked at the calendar today and saw that tonight’s final home game against Nebraska begins at 9:00, and realizing that if I take the kids to this game they wouldn’t get home until 1:00 or so, and knowing that we have our own basketball practice tonight along with the new PARCC standardized tests at school this week, well, looks like no Illinois hoops for us this year.

I suppose I could go myself, maybe try to talk my brother into going with me.  Get home late and be tired tomorrow.  But with his new mini-Rube at the house this probably isn’t an option.  It’s a shame because I really have a lot of respect for our team’s seniors – especially Nnnanna Egwu and Ray Rice – and would like to cheer for them in person one last time. Continue reading

Braver and Bolder

The boy has been watching Batman: The Brave and the Bold on Netflix lately.  I knew about this series and may have watched it once or twice during it’s original run (2008-11), but I didn’t recall how fun and well-done this show was.

This is four-color era Batman, with a definite nod to Adam West and Burt Ward and the lighter comic styles of the Silver Age.  From its bright color palette to its jazz-infused score and music, the show gives us a less dark and more fun version of DC’s famous detective.  The basic premise goes back to the old Brave and the Bold comic, which featured some form of super-heroic team-up (usually, but not always featuring Batman).  And they weren’t always the A-list/Justice League-type heroes.  So with this series, the producers took a bit of a gamble to include lesser-known heroes like Red Tornado, Phantom Stranger, Blue Beetle, etc.,as well as some of the more obscure (and silly) villains.  You will also see Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Robin and more familiar faces, but a lot of the show’s charm is in seeing the full breadth of DC  characters. Continue reading

Blame the Refs!

This weekend, Illini fans were treated to one of the strangest, most head-scratching, end-of-the-game referee decisions we have seen.  It was a potential game changer with about 30 seconds to go, and because of the thin margins for teams like Illinois and Michigan State, it was a potential season changer as well.  Hard to give this call justice, but here it is.

Your basic hard screen-out on a bonus free throw…  What you don’t see in that little clip (or actually you start to see it) is the Spartan player looks over to be sure the ref is watching, then doubles over in agony as if he’s been groin-smacked.  Maybe he was…  Sure doesn’t look like it.  Anyway, the refs called nothing, so they went to the video screen for a replay and assessed a technical foul – fouling out Jaylon Tate, giving the Spartans two more free throws and the ball, and sending the Illini Nation into a collective rage.  Fortunately the Spartans only made one FT, gave up the ball, and Illinois won in the end.  But speaking to my brother and others, we can’t remember ever seeing such a poor decision, so clearly influenced by the home crowd and the reputation of the coach (Tom Izzo, Dean of Big 10 hoops coaches).  This call resulted in a twitter slap-fight between ESPN talking head Dan Dakich and the mayor of Champaign, Don Gerard (no vote-trolling there). Continue reading

Commercial Woe

The week after the Superbowl seems to always include a lot of discussion about commercials, branding, marketing strategy.  The media likes the topic – after all, it’s part of the engine that makes them go and keeps them in funded.  From our perspective, this last Super Sunday featured some of the least memorable, least creative, and blah efforts in years.

Why?  Are the big marketing agencies afraid of the bad press?  Are the big brands more cautious, the smaller outfits less brave?  Is this part of the netflix and dvr-fueled zeitgeist that has the ad-men and women off their game?

Three commercials we liked for various reasons:  First, the Liam Neeson vengeance commercial for the Clash of Clans phone/tablet game.  That one drew a chuckle.  And, yes, a phone and tablet game at the Superbowl.  Next, the Kim Kardashian spot because we always like a bit of self-depreciating humor (someone probably needs to explain that further to Kim).  And finally, the Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbell commercial for the BMW electric:   “What is Internet?”

After that – not much.  And while we’re on the topic of media/marketing analysis and things we didn’t like or did’t take for us:  the new Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer.  Didn’t like it in the theater, don’t like it now.  It’s all dark and broody, with the heroes going after each other and looking depressed.  Hopefully this isn’t the tone of the movie as a whole, because that’s not what’s been working for Marvel in the theaters.

The Coachening

Yesterday, me, my brother, and our cousin with whom we grew up from just down the road in our little town were all coaching youth sports teams on the same day.  Social media confirmed this.  The latter two are both doing basketball right now; I’m doing an indoor soccer team and we’re about to start basketball for the kids as well.  And this got me to thinking…

Why most of us do it:  the kids are really fun as pre-teen participants, of course, and it’s great to be part of their team-sports development.  We can all list the stock positives for youth athletics.  Most of us who pick up the coaching gauntlet also feel like we know a little something about the sport at hand; we have some knowledge or wisdom to impart.   Continue reading

Shifting to Cover

Victory Badge

We haven’t had much analysis on Illini Hoops of late – mostly because the results have been disappointing and hard to figure.  When they play better on offense, they can’t seem to sustain their defense.  The shooting is off.  Then Rayvonte Rice broke his hand this week on the heels of a two-game winning streak…

And Illinois responded like they needed to – backs against the wall and a home win against a Top 10 Maryland team.  It was a really nice performance.  Good to see the coaching staff mix up the rotations and the defenses to come up with a plan.  Good to see guys Like Hill, Egwu, and especially Jaylon Tate step up. Continue reading

Bowl Watching

Like so many others, we watch a lot of college football around New Year’s.  This year, our very own Fighting Illini were in the party again, making it to one of those also-ran Bowls:  The Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.  Illinois lost 35-18 and probably should have won – though you wouldn’t know it by the score.

With all these bowl games, especially in light of the inaugural 4-team playoff, the sports talkers have been discussing bowl viability, money, TV contracts, etc., and as we sit here watching Oregon pound Florida State, we have some thoughts as well.

If you’re among those who think that the major conference re-shuffling and re-jiggering is horrible, look no further than the now-departed BCS system.  Between the BCS contract and the guaranteed conference contracts to various bowls, the Big 10, Pac 12, SEC, and ACC had ample motivation to expand.  More money.  More prestige.  More TV markets.  Now that we’ve finally entered the playoff era, there’s a chance the system could correct itself over time.

Continue reading