No matter how hard I have tried, this job has not made me a morning person.
One of the nice things about sports is that unlike a house fire or a robbery, no hockey game has ever broken out unexpectedly at 4 a.m.
And when they are scheduled at unusual times, even better. One of my favorite parts of the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament is the first-round afternoon slot. As a high school student, I distinctly remember passionately supporting St. Bonaventure in a first-round thriller against Kentucky that took place during fourth-hour English.
When I graduated, I held the television hostage at my senior lock-in so I could watch the USA-South Korea match at the 2002 FIFA World Cup live at 2:30 in the morning.
My exploits with late-night Australian Rules football viewing have already been documented.
So, when ESPN announced the schedule for its third annual 24 hour hoops marathon, which aired Tuesday and Wednesday, I was positively thrilled to see that my beloved Central Michigan Chippewas were on it, at Hawaii, live from Honolulu.
Another bunch of marquee matchups in WCHA play this week, including No. 1 vs. No. 15 and No. 4 vs. No. 8. For me, last week's big help came from on high, specifically Colorado, as I got both of Denver and Colorado College's games right en route to an OK 7-4-1 week. CC and Minnesota State are off for the weekend, but here's the rest of the 10-game slate.
Minnesota at Michigan Tech
This is quite a match: the team that can't start straight against the team for whom two-goal leads appear to be kryptonite. The Gophers are 0-4 when trailing after a period, but 5-0-1 when ahead after 20 minutes. So, theoretically, those fast starts Tech has been having could work in its favor. I've heard and read lots of weeping and gnashing of teeth over Tech's current struggles in finishing games, but let's not forget that their last four games were at last year's national runner-up, Wisconsin, and the current No. 1 team in the country, Minnesota Duluth. Baby steps, people. Continuing that march to respectability, Tech catches the Gophers napping Friday night and grabs a few points.
The Verdict: Tech 5-3 Friday, UMn 3-2 Saturday
Minnesota Duluth at Wisconsin
This big series would have been even bigger if the Badgers hadn't gotten swept at home against North Dakota last weekend. Neither side has swept a series from the other since Dec. 2004, so that factoid and the relative parity between these two top teams is good reason to hedge my bets here.
The Verdict: UW 6-5 Friday, UMD 3-1 Saturday
North Dakota at Nebraska Omaha
Someone's got to take down UNO, right? Right? Well, if North Dakota can take all the points out of the Kohl Center, it ought to be able to take all the air out of the Qwest Center. It has been a flying start for the Mavericks, who have yet to lose a conference game and are up to No. 4 in the country. UNO coach Dean Blais's former employers, the Fighting Sioux, are actually ahead of UNO in the standings (they've played two more games), but can they stay there? They will after this week, but only after battling the Mavs to a draw.
The Verdict: UNO 3-2 Friday, UND 4-3 Saturday
Bemidji State at Denver
The good news for Bemidji this weekend? It's the Beavers' only series west of flyover country for the season, as Alaska Anchorage visited last week and Colorado College plays at the Sanford Center in February. The bad news? Even the WCHA's so-called 'bad' teams can jump up and bite you, like the Seawolves did last Friday. The worse news? Denver's not one of the 'bad' teams, as it proved by dumping Minnesota State. Oddly enough, the Pioneers have averaged fewer shots in all three regulation periods than their opponents. It hasn't stopped them from being No. 3 in the league standings and No. 13 in the country and it won't this weekend.
The Verdict: DU sweep, 3-1, 5-3.
St. Cloud State at Alaska Anchorage
Consistency remains a problem for St. Cloud, which has yet to sweep any series this season and has no players in the Top 25 in the league in points, nor anyone with more than three goals in WCHA play (the Other Huskies have had six league games). Now it's off to Alaska for the Late Show against a Seawolves team that hasn't shown much save for its first non-Houghton road win in regulation in over a season (Mar. 7, 2009). Tough to figure when SCSU's offense will hit or miss, but let's give the Seawolves credit for being a tough out at home.
The Verdict: UAA 2-1 Friday, SCSU 6-3 Saturday.
Last Week: 7-4-1
For the Season: 31-24-5 (55.8 percent)
At 4 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.
Normally, getting up for me is an ordeal that involves my phone, my iPod and all sorts of ringing bells and whistles (and in the winter, the beep-beep-beep of city plow trucks moving snow). Not Tuesday.
Central managed to lose before breakfast, but they got a trip to Hawaii and national TV exposure out of the deal. And besides, out there, it was 11 p.m. when they tipped off, which makes it earlier than some pick-up games started when I was at college.
As for me, I suffered no adverse effects, at least not the ones that Folgers can't fix. Always good to tap into the nostalgia factor (I was a freshman when CMU made the NCAAs in 2003) and get a relatively rare chance to see your school on TV. Though I do feel bad for the poor people in New Jersey who had to cover Stony Brook at Monmouth, which followed CMU's game and had a 6 a.m. tip-off.
Some people will do anything to get on TV these days.
It was a special occasion and a chance to shift gears a little bit, getting excited about hoops again.
The Tech men and both Finlandia teams have already kicked off, and Tech's women and the high schools are soon to follow.
A few little notes and points of emphasis in the rules for winter sports as things get going:
Not much in the way of rules changes for the National Federation of State High School Athletic Associations or the MHSAA - though three-person crews will be used for all MHSAA tournament games this year.
Speaking of tournament games, a few adjustments to the districts: The return of Hancock to Class C triggered a change in geography for the Class D districts. Republic-Michigamme will now compete with Lake Linden-Hubbell, Jeffers, Dollar Bay, Chassell and host Baraga in this year's boys' basketball district, which remains a six-team tournament. R-M merged its girls program with Ishpeming, meaning that it will be a five-team draw on that side, with Dollar Bay as the host.
Ontonagon and Ewen-Trout Creek remain combined with the Gogebic Range schools and Forest Park in a six-team district to be held at Ontonagon (boys) and Watersmeet (girls).
The Class C boys' district, once again consisting of five teams, will be held in Ironwood this year. After checking with Jason Juno of The Daily Globe in Ironwood, he said Red Devil officials will not be using the 'non-traditional draw' format (that is, multiple sites) the MHSAA has used in some locations, particularly the U.P. Class B district, and that all five teams will be playing in Ironwood as long as the Red Devils remain in the running. As for the girls, they're going to be a little closer to home at Calumet.
Just a reminder, the first area girls' basketball games tip off Nov. 30, with boys' play starting Dec. 6. As far as I know, no one is playing at 4 a.m. Thank goodness for that.
Brandon Veale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.