Bookstore Basketball: No. 1 seed Saturdays in America headlines Sweet Sixteen
Observer Sports Writers | Wednesday, April 27, 2011
The contest between No. 1 overall seed Saturdays in America and previously unranked The Mock Turtle Necks extends far beyond the David vs. Goliath matchup that it appears to be. It is a game with graduate school bragging rights on the line.
The law-school representatives Saturdays in America are led by third-year law student and 2010 Tournament MVP Chuck Flynn, as well as 2008 Tournament MVP point guard Alex Klupchak.
The duo have taken their team through a grueling stretch of close games to get to the Round of 16 with the help of third-year law student Brendan Bush, second-year law student and captain John Rompf and senior Aaron Nichols, who have a combined six championship appearances.
“While everyone else is playing checkers, we play chess,” Flynn said, describing his team’s success. “Chess wins championships.”
Meanwhile, The Mock Turtle Necks, consisting of first-year MBA students Mark Felder, Andre Moskowitz, Russ Cramer, Cameron Cook, Dan Marques and captain Patrick McNamara, will play for the upset. They are led by their big man, Cook, who serves as the team’s intimidating shot blocker and offensive focal point.
Inspired by Irish coach Mike Brey’s iconic gameday attire, The Mock Turtle Necks have made a surprise run to the Round of 16, beating the No. 10, 23 and 42 seeds by an average of five points, and look to turn even more heads along the way.
“Our team is built for the street game with scrappy defense and a big man to feed the ball down low,” McNamara said. “We might seem like the Cinderella as the No. 624 seed, but we have [gotten here by] playing smart basketball and running the court.”
Saturdays in America will try to hold off upstart The Mock Turtle Necks tonight at 7 p.m. on Court 4 in a matchup of competing graduate schools.
No. 8 The Firm vs. No. 9 Charlie Keller
This matchup features two teams with plenty of tournament experience and success that both teams hope will finally translate into a title.
The No. 8 seed, The Firm, has cruised to the Round of 16 even through rainy conditions. Its team members are known for their tuxedo t-shirts that the business majors sport in homage to their college. The squad is anchored by sophomore Matt Huber, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder who also guards the opposing team’s biggest offensive threat.
Along with Huber, The Firm is composed of sophomores Gary Hunt III, Will Reising and Steve Conway and junior Mike Renner, all of whom played together in last year’s tournament when they lost 22-20 to the No. 2 seed in the Round of 16.
But the Mendoza majors hope to build off last year’s success and break into the quarterfinals this time around.
“Our greatest strength is our chemistry,” team captain Conway said. “We are a bit undersized, so we have to execute and communicate effectively.”
The Firm will face a stiff test from No. 9 seed Charlie Keller, which is captained by Fr. Pete McCormick, rector of Keough Hall. He is joined by Director of Notre Dame Vision Leonard DeLorenzo, Rec Sports Special Events Coordinator Tim Novak, second-year law student Ryan Raybould and senior Jim Maslar.
Charlie Keller has an average margin of victory of over six points in the tournament, including a 21-13 victory over the No. 24 seed in the round of 32. The squad also boasts over 15 combined years of tournament experience, something that the team wants to use as an advantage over its opponents in the late rounds.
“We are going to keep doing what got us to this point,” McCormick said. “Bookstore Basketball is different from indoor hoops and we have a good understanding of that.”
The Firm will take on veteran Charlie Keller at 7 p.m. on Court 2 with a spot in the quarterfinals on the line.
No. 6 Steel City Ballers vs. No. 11 Not Four but Five Players
While great individual skill can be found on both teams, the exceptional team chemistry of each built by years of playing together is sure to create an intriguing storyline when these seeded teams face off in the Sweet 16.
Steel City Ballers, consisting of Mark Wilkins, E.J. Jones, Sean Dillon, A.J. Graft and Conner Wright, is a group of Holy Cross basketball players. The two guards, captain Wilkins and Jones, have been playing together since high school.
“It’s like we know each other’s every move,” Wilkins said. “Our game is a lot alike so it’s difficult for teams to adjust to our style of play.”
The remaining three members of the team bring a raw, aggressive aspect that complements the skilled tandem of Jones and Wilkins.
“Sean and Conner bring a rough edge and toughness — Graft is a monster,” Wilkins said. “I actually hate playing against these guys. You’re bound to lose a few teeth.”
Not Four but Five Players is made of four players who have played together since their freshman year, Garrett Quinn, Bobby Huffman, Joe Mezyk and JP McCabe, and a new addition who fits in as though he’s always been on the team, Will Gesicki.
“We know each other’s strengths and play to them,” captain Garrett Quinn said. “Our biggest strength is the way we play together as a team.”
Quinn believes each player brings a different asset, with each positive quality complementing that of the other players and contributing to great team play.
The teams know each other and both give credit to the other’s winning potential. Quinn and Wilkins both said they expected a close, physical game.
“Either team could win,” Quinn said. “It should be a fun one.”
The two teams will battle for a berth in the Elite Eight tonight at 9 p.m.
No. 7 Team Nice vs. No. 10 Pittsburgh Hoops
Despite the innocuous names, the matchup between Team Nice and Pittsburgh Hoops should be a nasty fight to the last seconds.
Team Nice is comprised of four law students, captain Mitch Ramirez, Allan Macquarrie, Mauri Miller and Rob Theofanis, in addition to freshman Scott Kennedy. They put pressure on the ball on defense and love fast-paced, transition offense.
Each team member is an impressive athlete as well as an impressive basketball player, and two even have college athletics experience — Macquarrie played basketball at Columbia and Theofanis played football at Occidental College.
Miller is a well-known player around South Bend for his impressive high school performances. Kennedy, the freshman, was recruited to the team based on skill alone.
“Scott [Kennedy] was our random Rolf’s pickup,” Mitch Ramirez said. “He’s strong, very skilled, especially dangerous on the fast break and is also a superb defender.”
Ramirez was humble about his own talents, despite competing in an important role for the team.
“I’m our glue guy,” Ramirez said. “My biggest strength is that I know the other four guys are better than I am, so I make good passes, defend and knock down a few shots when I’m left open.”
Pittsburgh Hoops is made up of captain Brian Castello, Pablo Martinez, Chris Guirres, Frank Karl and Tommy Mumford. Pittsburgh Hoops prefers a starkly different play style to that of Team Nice, slowing the ball down on offense and playing fundamental defense.
“We like a half-court game,” captain Brian Castello said. “If it becomes a run-and-gun style game, it should get really interesting.”
The team consists of several talented athletes, but in the end the squad relies on outside shooting to advance.
“Our shooting makes or breaks us,” captain Brian Castello said. “If we aren’t making shots, it’ll be a tough game.”
They use their athleticism and discipline on the other side of the ball to frustrate their opponents, not pressuring the ball especially hard, but stopping points by playing breakdown defense.
These two teams, as equally different as they are skilled, recognize the challenges in facing a style so completely contrary to their own, yet remain confident in their skills.
“Brian’s team will be a challenge,” Ramirez said, “but we’re confident we can come out with a [win].”
The teams will compete to advance to the elite eight tonight at 8 p.m.
No. 2 Runnin’ Rebels vs. No. 15 Unfathomable Toughness
The enthusiastic freshman squad Unfathomable Toughness will face off against an experienced team of graduate students in the Runnin’ Rebels.
The Toughness came together as a result of Late Night Olympics and the Playing for Peace tournament competition, where captain Brandon “B-Mac” Nwannunu said he started gaining chemistry with fellow freshmen Tom Hickey and Tyler Sonsalla. After adding Matt Brittan, Conor Healy and Michael Morsches to the roster, the “Toughness” acquired a No. 16 ranking going into the tournament and blazed through the first couple rounds, facing a challenge only in the round of 32.
“The opposing team was lucky enough for one of our players, Matt Brittan, to be sick and sidelined for the game,” Nwannunu said.
“It was the first time our team had ever trailed at half time, but once again we proved to be the better team.”
Nwanniunu has some trash talking of his own for the men of the Runnin’ Rebels.
“I was certain that our paths would cross, as I told one of [the Rebels’] players, Omar Jenkins … Thus, we have only one rule to play by: ‘These bookstore teams are like dominoes, line them up and we knock them down,'” he said.
As the Runnin’ Rebels are made up of four first-year MBA students, John Baumann, Alex Grace, Mike Grodecki and Omar Jenkins, and first-year law student Brian Salvi, it is the first time the five have come together as a team or even competed in Bookstore. Though the previously unranked Rebels have proved stiff competition for unexpecting opponents, Baumann said the focus has been on enjoying the experience.
“The greatest thing is the conditions of the tournament in that you’re playing games outside,” Baumann said. “Depending on the weather each game is a different type of matchup, so it’s been an exciting tournament so far.”
Contrasting with the belligerent Toughness, Bauman and his “Rebels” have a more composed and confident approach.
“We’re going to go out, continue to play like we’ve been playing, and we look forward to having a nice game.”
The Toughness face the Rebels at 8 p.m. on Court 2.
No. 3 Alexander’s Grill vs. No. 14 If Basketball Hoops Were Elementary Schools…
Last year’s defending champions Alexander’s Grill will try to continue on its path of back-to-back titles as they face the freshmen squad If Basketball Hoops Were Elementary Schools…
For Alexander’s Grill, the road has not been as smooth as anticipated. Senior captain Dan Crisman said the team, consisting of himself, seniors Sean Reed, Tyrell “Lil Gyro” Atkins, Buchi Offodile and Matt Romine have encountered some struggles in the past couple of rounds.
“We’re definitely excited to get back on the court for the round of 16. Our last two games didn’t go as smoothly as we would have liked,” Crisman said. “We ran into some pretty good teams that were on the ball when we definitely weren’t, but we were still able to find a way pull it out. After our last two games we’ve realized that no matter what seed a team might be, you shouldn’t underestimate them by any means, especially from this point going forward.”
Basketball Hoops was unranked going into the tournament, but has proven itself as the rounds progressed. Freshman captain Jack Gardner said that his team has enjoyed the progression through the tournament.
“We’ve had a blast getting to the Sweet Sixteen. We put the team together because we’re a group of guys who just love to play basketball,” Gardner said. “It’s especially great when we get to play some competitive ball against other solid players.”
Basketball Hoops members Gardner, Tim Fulnecky, Kevin Timperman, Pat Crowley and Dominic Romeo know they will get the competition they crave against Alexander’s Grill.
“We’re expecting a tough game,” Gardner said. “We’ve seen several of the players on Alexander’s Grill play before and they are all very talented. We’re excited to get the chance to play the defending champs in our first year in the tournament.”
They face an obstacle, however. Basketball Hoops will be without Romeo, the team’s primary post player, for the remainder of the tournament. Meanwhile, “Alexander’s Grill” remains confident.
“Despite the rough patches so far, though, and although our team has a couple of new faces this year, we’re still definitely looking to defend our title from last year,” Crisman said. “And it starts with our opponent tomorrow night in the Sweet 16.”
The defending champions continue their search for a second straight title tonight at 9 p.m. on Court 4.
No. 4 Pizzeria Siegfried – The Delivery Boys vs. No. 13 Psycho B’s Lady Hips
After escaping from the round of 32 with a hard-fought 27-25 victory, Psycho B’s Lady Hips will enter its matchup with Pizzeria Siegfried – The Delivery Boys as the underdog.
Lady Hips senior captain Mathew Spencer leads seniors Andy Clark, Jeremy Riche, Patrick Dollard and MBA student Philip Schneider into the round of 16. For Spencer, his team’s arrival into the Sweet 16 signals the accomplishment of a long-standing goal.
“There are two things I wanted to do at the University of Notre Dame: graduate and make it to the Sweet 16 in Bookstore Basketball,” Spencer said.
In less than a month Spencer will have accomplished both, but despite the team’s excitement over earning a berth in the tournament’s seventh round, the No. 13 seed has already shifted its focus to advancing to the Elite Eight. To do so, the boys from Keenan Hall will continue to rely on their tenacious style of play.
“Our strength is that we play with a lot of passion and will,” Spencer said. “We don’t give up or get flustered. Our strategy is to do whatever is necessary in order to make it to the Elite Eight.”
If Psycho B’s Lady Hips is to capture the victory tonight, the team will have to take down The Delivery Boys, who cruised through the round of 32 with a 21-5 victory. Captain David Rudy is joined by Andrew Nelligan, Mike Garcia, Dennis Sobolewski and Kevin Kelly, a team composed entirely of seniors.
The No. 4 seed has relied heavily on its active, swarming defense thus far in the tournament and promises to do the same in the round of 16.
“The Delivery Boys thrive on tough, in-your-face defense that leads to easy buckets in a strong transition game,” Rudy said.
The Delivery Boys have the added benefit of experience, having progressed as far as the Final Four in previous tournaments.
“Our team has been playing together for four years and has enjoyed some success in the past, so we are comfortable playing with each other and knowing where everyone is on the floor,” Rudy said. “Team basketball is our strength, especially against opponents with more size and athleticism.”
Despite being the higher seeded team and having experience in late tournament games, The Delivery Boys realize they have plenty to play for and that they will have their hands full with Psycho B’s Lady Hips.
“This round of the tournament is always fun with so many great teams still playing,” Rudy said. “Our team is definitely motivated to win for such a great cause like the Jumpball Program, which helps to fund a basketball camp in Jamaica. Earning a few delicious pizzas from our sponsor Pizzeria Siegfried doesn’t hurt our appetite to win, either.”
The game’s tip-off is set for 6 p.m. on Court 2.
No. 5 Texas Roadhouse vs. No. 12 Old School
When Texas Roadhouse takes on Old School in the round of 16, the age-old themes of new vs. old and potential vs. experience will be on full display.
As evidenced by its name, Old School readily embraces the fact that it is composed of players older than those on the average Bookstore team, ranging from their mid-twenties to their early-forties.
Captain Todd Hill, a 1991 Notre Dame graduate, said that his team understands both the problems and benefits that come with his team’s collective age.
“At our more mature age, we typically won’t be out-athleting any teams,” Hill said. “[However,] maturity does have its strengths and we play to them. We have a high basketball IQ, and we know who we are and who we aren’t. We have played the burn offense for years, long before Coach Brey picked it up and made it part of the identity of the Irish men’s program.
Hill is joined on the court by HR employees Matt McCubbins and Matthew Blazejewski, OIT employees Joel Dosmann and Mark Bennitt and graduate student Luke Chicoine.
Despite being matched up against younger teams in every game, Old School has yet to be seriously tested. Still, the age difference between Hill and many of his opponents is quite significant.
“When I told one of the guys I graduated [and] about us making it to the Sweet Sixteen, [he said], ‘Do you realize that most of the students you are playing against were not even born when you played your first Bookstore game as an ND freshman 23 years ago?'” Hill said.
That will be the case once again tonight when Old School meets Texas Roadhouse in the Sweet 16. Senior captain Adam Dobrzykowski leads juniors Zachary Cook, JT Brevard and Taylor Williams and freshmen Pat Derksen and Dane Okuda.
The young guns have not been tested in their games to this point either, having advanced by relying largely on their speed.
“We score fast and play clamps ‘D,'” Cook said.
However, Cook also said that his team has the versatility needed to match up against the advanced talent level in the later rounds.
“We feel privileged to play in such a prestigious tournament and showcase our talents,” he said. “We feel that our team has achieved success because we have the necessary size, speed and basketball IQ. We look forward to competing against some very talented teams in the later rounds.”
Old School and Texas Roadhouse will battle for supremacy and the right to keep playing at 6 p.m. on Court 4.