Land-o-Links – 1/9/2006

An interesting mix for the links today:

1) Ghostface Killah Releasing Limited Edition Doll – It’s kind of like a Teddy Ruxpin doll that sings “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta F–k Wit.”

2) Urban Colleges Learn to Be Good Neighbors – I mentioned before how my law school alma mater DePaul reaps the benefit of a great urban neighborhood.  Here’s how my sister’s alma mater, Penn, turned its formerly decrepit West Philadelphia (born and raised) location into a plus.

3) Mystery of Mozart’s Skull – Is this the skull of the man who is the definition of the word “genius?”

4) Sox and Penguin Pals Safe at Home – It figures that the ones behind Hinsdale’s recent crime wave (we residents of Naperville knew it was only a matter of time before all of the riff-raff of Hinsdale would come out) were disgruntled Cubs fans.  Note to Cubs fans: if you want the right to desecrate cute penguin statues that are going to be auctioned off to raise funds for the new Brookfield Zoo penguin habitat, you need to win a World Series first.  Shame on you.


Ugly Illini and Other Weekend Sports Tidbits

The DePaul post was a long time coming and, as a result, long-winded, so here are my other thoughts from the weekend in sports in a separate section:

1) Got Offense? Not These Illini – The side benefit from attending the DePaul-Notre Dame game on Saturday was that my TV was spared from random objects being punched through the screen since I couldn’t watch the Illinois-Iowa game.  Whether we can have consistent offensive output when Dee Brown isn’t playing well is a major concern.  However, I must say that this had all the trappings of a trap game for the Illini.  We just came off an emotional and huge win against highly ranked Michigan State and were going on the road to face a pretty good team that was a lot more pumped-up to play us than we were to play them.  I’m confident Bruce Weber will right the ship in time for next Saturday’s game against (Muck) Fichigan.

2) Wisky’s Back, Tell a Friend – Every year, college basketball prognosticators talk about how many starters Wisconsin lost and that the Badgers will be going through a rebuilding phase.  And then every year, Wisconsin spanks everyone who comes into the Kohl Center and they end up as one of the top two or three teams in the Big Ten.  So, the Badger beating of the Spartans on Sunday shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.  Honestly, I’ve got to give Wisky coach Bo Ryan mad props – I can’t think of another coach in the country who has such a finely tuned system where he can drop in 4 new starters who were barely All-Wisconsin out of high school much less McDonald’s All-Americans and continue to contend for the Big Ten title.  Wisconsin has a great coach and a great program.

3) NFC Wild Card Weekend – I was really hoping that the Bears would draw Tampa Bay for next weekend’s second round match-up, but the Redskins were able to take advantage of the enigma known as Chris Simms first.  How else could Washington have possibly won with 120 total yards of offense (pencil in a Seattle victory next week)?  So, the Bears are getting a rematch with a Carolina team that currently has an offense that’s humming.  Plus, the Panther defense smothered the Giants’ Eli Manning, who is a seasoned veteran at QB compared to Rex Grossman (there are few things more satisfying in sports than watching New Yorkers boo their own team for 3 quarters – it was like watching a Knicks game).  Still, we killed this team back in November and we’re going to have a completely healthy defense with Mike Brown back in the fold.  I love our chances to advance in the playoffs for the first time since Da Coach was at the helm.  I’m seriously giddy!

4) AFC Wild Card WeekendAs I stated three weeks ago, the Patriots are the team to beat in the AFC.  I don’t care if next week’s game is in the thin air of Denver; if you had to bet your life savings on a team, are you going to take a club led by Tom Brady or one commanded by Jake Plummer?  Exactly.  On the other side of the bracket, it was a shame that Carson Palmer’s injury killed Cincinnati against the Steelers on Sunday, but I was silently hoping that Jon Kitna would somehow also get knocked out so I could once again see Craig Krenzel in an NFL game without a Bears uniform.  I’m up in the air on the Colts-Steelers game next week (I think the power running game of Pittsburgh can really take control of the tempo on the speed-oriented Indy defense), although it ultimately won’t matter since I’m sticking by my prediction three weeks ago that the Pats will be the AFC Super Bowl rep again.

5) Bulls Out of Funk – The Bulls finally came back this weekend with a 2-game winning streak, although Sam Smith from the Tribune is preaching to the choir here when he says we have too many guards and should trade one of them, preferably Chris Duhon as opposed to the more oft-mentioned Ben Gordon, for a big man.

Demons Dog the Irish

When it comes to college sports, I’m an Illini fanatic first and foremost, which is reflected in my blog.  However, in the wake of my attending DePaul’s solid 73-67 victory over old Catholic school/new Big East Conference rival Notre Dame on Saturday, let’s take a moment to examine the state of my law school alma mater’s basketball program.

DePaul has been extremely inconsistent so far in its inaugural season with Jerry Wainwright at the coaching helm.  The Demons have had solid wins against Wake Forest, Northwestern, and Notre Dame, but were handled by smaller schools such as Ol’ Dirty University and Northern Illinois.  At this point, DePaul is a bubble team for this year’s NCAA Tournament at best, particularly with the team facing its first season in the brutal and bloated Big East.  With the development of junior guard Sammy Mejia and promising freshman forward Wilson Chandler (21 points and 12 rebounds against the Irish on Saturday), however, look for the Blue Demons to compete in the upper echelon of the Big East in the 2006-07.

DePaul Victorious Over Notre Dame       DePaul - ND #2

As for the long-term state of the DePaul program, there are two major issues – the first is positive and the second is negative.  First, Big East membership will result in an initial boon to DePaul in terms local interest in the Chicago media market.  DePaul gets to cement its long-standing rivalries with Midwestern Catholic universities Notre Dame and Marquette while establishing new ties East Coast spiritual cousins such as St. John’s and Georgetown.

At the same time, being able to play Big East heavyweights like Syracuse and UConn on a regular basis gives DePaul the chance to recapture some of the media attention that the school used to receive up until the end of the 1980s.  Before the arrival of Michael Jordan, DePaul was the biggest sports story in Chicago every winter.  Today, though, the Illini and the Big Ten clearly receive the lion’s share of college sports coverage in Chicago (those who might disagree should check the front of the sports sections of the Chicago Tribune from this past Friday and Sunday – blanket coverage of the Illini games against MSU and Iowa relegated the Bulls, Blackhawks, the DePaul-Notre Dame game, and the NFL playoffs to spots deep inside the paper).

Still, it’s not just enough for DePaul to simply join the Big East – the Demons need to establish a winning program within that conference.  Otherwise, DePaul is going to be to the Big East what Northwestern basketball is to the Big Ten: a Chicago outpost whose arena is filled up every game with fans of the opponents.

Speaking of the arena, DePaul’s other major issue is that the team’s home gym is going to be an albatross on the program for the foreseeable future.  DePaul is blessed with arguably the best campus location of any urban college in the nation in Lincoln Park (Greenwich Village is funky but NYU really doesn’t have a true campus like DePaul, while Lincoln Park has a lot more going on both day and night than Georgetown), which is a huge reason why the school consistently has the happiest student body anywhere.

Yet, instead of having students and alums take in college basketball in a fantastic city neighborhood setting that would rival the experience of going to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, DePaul fans need to schlep up to an arena 30 minutes from campus where you need to duck the airplanes flying over the parking lot and pay $5 for a Polish sausage that isn’t half as tasty as the old $2 Polish-and-fries combo at the now-defunct Demon Dogs under the Fullerton El tracks (by the way, not being able stumble into Demon Dogs after a long evening of, er, studying in Lincoln Park is one of the top ten things I miss about living in the city – how dare the CTA take it all away).

Demon Dogs' Last Day

The university wants an on-campus arena, the students want an on-campus arena, the alums want an on-campus arena, and recruits want an on-campus arena.  However, there’s a realization by all parties that this probably will never happen.  Even if there were enough land available in Lincoln Park to build a facility, the cost to buy such land would be so astronomical that a 10,000 to 15,000-seat basketball arena would be more expensive to construct than the United Center or the new Soldier Field.  DePaul’s Big East affiliation will only go so far in attracting talent when recruits see the school’s Big Ten competitors with first-class on-campus facilities that teem with rabid students and fans every game.  If St. John’s is having trouble getting recruits to come because of the lack of an on-campus arena and the Red Storm play in the Mecca of Basketball A.K.A. Madison Square Garden, think of the disadvantage DePaul faces when its arena is the aging Allstate Arena next to a bunch of O’Hare runways.

The only way I can see the stadium situation being mitigated is if DePaul can move its home games to the United Center.  At least the games would be a lot closer for students and playing in the House that Jordan Built would be a bit better of a selling point for recruits.  Unfortunately, this isn’t even a possibility for several years since the City of Rosemont agreed to remodel Allstate Arena in exchange for DePaul committing to playing its home schedule there for the foreseeable future (this was the reason why Allstate Arena was able to snag last year’s NCAA Chicago Regional Final A.K.A. the greatest game I have ever seen in any sport at any level – you Illini fans don’t need any explanation).

So, DePaul’s basketball program is looking upward as a new Big East member, but the Blue Demons will also be constantly fighting an uphill battle in recruiting as long as they play in Rosemont.  Of course, there are few programs that can lay claim to having everything perfect, so here’s to hoping that Jerry Wainwright can bring back the buzz and add to the tradition of DePaul basketball that was advanced by another attendee of Saturday’s game: the great Ray Meyer.