Marquette High vs. Wauwatosa East, Among Other Things
It was yet another outstanding weekend of basketball. Everywhere you looked, you could find some more basketball. Each one of Wisconsin's division 1 teams played on Saturday, and except for Wisconsin, they all came away victorious on the road. North Carolina pummelled conference foe Maryland and gave notice to the rest of the country that it will be very dangerous, something I've known since about the second week of the season. Legendary coaches matched up in key games, as John Chaney's Temple squad took on Coach K and Duke, and Eddie Sutton's Oklahoma State crew matched up with Bobby Knight's boys at Texas Tech. The Big Ten conference season kicked off. Upsets across the country took place, as Arizona fell to Stanford, with former local standout Dan Grunfeld scoring 29 for the Cardinal, and the mighty Gonzaga lost to a sneaky St. Mary's team. And for desert, Kansas and Kentucky played a late Sunday afternoon game for people who were not interested in the NFL playoffs. Indeed, it was an orgy of basketball.
And all of that happened before one even considers Wisconsin high school basketball, which was also full of key games this past weekend. Waukesha North took down conference foe Pius to take an upper hand in the race for the Classic 8 Conference championship. Two top-10 teams in the state met as Milwaukee King beat Milwaukee Bradley Tech by 22 points, serving notice that Sectional 8 will be theirs to lose this year, and receiving a breakout 10 point game from overly-hyped center Mitchell Carter, and 14 from freshman phenom Korie Lucious. Sheboygan South surprisingly took down Sheboygan North at one of the huge games played each year at the local Armory. However, in my mind, there was only one high school game taking place this weekend--one of the two yearly conference meetings of Marquette High and Tosa East.
Always a competetive game, Saturday evening's meeting between the Hilltoppers and the Red Raiders took on increased significance, as conference foe West Allis Hale, the only other legitimate contender for a Greater Metro Conference championship, lost on Friday night to Brookfield Central. The race for the championship heated up even more. I didn’t expect to attend the game, but due to a number of odd changes in my plans on Saturday, I was able to go. Fortunately for me, my friend Kosta used his inside connections to secure me a ticket to the game, which is always an early sellout. We departed early to find decent seats at the game, and take in what is perhaps the premier public vs. private school rivalry in the state. What happened next, can, not surprisingly, perhaps best be described by a series of bullet points:
1) During the JV game, Jerry Smith was spotted wearing a winter hat with a Wisconsin logo on it. I doubt that it means anything, but feel the need to mention it, since some will certainly think this will give insight as to where Smith wants to go to school. I simply mention it because I’m glad that when I was 16 that my choice of stylish headgear on any given evening did not have the potential to spark heated discussion among legions of sports fans. I love the ridiculous things that we talk about sometimes.
2) Saturday provided me another chance to see one of my favorite high school players in recent memory, Marquette’s Alexis Pease. Pease did not disappoint, dropping 31 points on Tosa East. Incredibly, though he scored well over half of his team’s points, I almost feel like Marquette didn’t go to him enough, as most of his points were not too hard to come by after he put one move on his defender. I’ve said before that I feel sorry that the guy isn’t 3 inches taller, because he could be going to a solid division one college if that was the case. However, if the rumors that I heard that Pease will be playing at Harvard next year are true, then it’s tough to feel sorry for him, even if I’m more of a Yale fan.
3) Marquette’s other big man, Matt Mulcahy had a rough night, scoring only 6 points and fouling out with 4 minutes to go in the game. Part of his difficulties were likely related to Marquette’s inexplicable unwillingness to get the ball to its inside players. Mulcahy, though not historically a man who sits in the post, should have been able to dominate along with Pease if the Hilltoppers had forced the ball inside a bit more. Instead, the big guys roamed around away from the basket. It’s the same story as the last 3 seasons, and frankly, I’d have figured their offensive ideas might have changed a bit.
4) I seem to say this every week, but the game’s officials were poor. I hate to keep harping on guys that make next to nothing for a night of work, and get rewarded by guys like me bitching about them, but there were some glaring errors in the game. Jerry Smith received a surprisingly quick technical foul for questioning a 10-second call, after one of the refs went out of his way to talk to Smith immediately after the violation. As my fellow fan Kosta noted, the refs shouldn’t be seeking out the players so much, or talking to them as constantly as these guys were. An even worse call took place shortly thereafter, though, as Matt Mulcahy picked up his 5th foul of the game while he was essentially just standing around trying to box out. With 4 minutes to go, Marquette really got hurt by losing one of its stars. The one other highly suspect call of the game fortunately took place when the game was out of reach, but with 3 seconds on the clock, one of the more bizarre jump balls that I’ve ever seen took place. As usual, the game was called consistently bad both ways, but I can’t help but think Marquette got the raw end of the deal when they lost Mulcahy.
5) The opportunity on offense that Marquette did not miss was running the floor. Tosa East was terrible at getting back on defense, and got beat down the floor for easy buckets and fouls not only on fastbreak opportunities, but also several times after dead balls. One would hope that that will be addressed in practice before the next meeting.
6) The fan support in the game was surprisingly tame, though I’ll dole out some of the blame for that in my next point. From a rivalry that has produced fan chants ranging from Marquette’s “Jesus Loves Us” to Tosa East’s “We’ve Got Girls,” I was disappointed not to hear any cutting remarks from the stands.
7) You want blame for the lack of fan chants? Look no further than a group that I used to think greatly enhanced a high school basketball game: the pep band. It’s tough for me to say this as a former pep band member myself (hey, I was just looking to get into the game for free), but the fact that the band played during every timeout took away many great chanting opportunities. And of course, a pep band takes up a great amount of space that cheering students could inhabit. I don’t even need to comment (though I will) on the band’s playing of “Na, Na, Hey, Hey, Goodbye” while Tosa East held a 2 point lead with 13 seconds to go, and Marquette had the ball. It’s not a song that’s played before the game it out of hand, people.
8) Time for the obligatory Jerry Smith update. Smith does not look much like the player that I watched for the two years prior to this one. He gets to the hoop less, especially against good defenses, but has finally adapted so that he is able to shoot either a nice pull-up mid-range jumper, or a three-pointer when open. Shooting is now a legitimate weapon for Smith, whereas formerly he was only a threat to slash down the lane. And of course, he looked dominant for periods during the game. After the opening tip, I think he had collected 4 points and 4 rebounds within 2 minutes. And his return from the bench after his technical foul resulted in him putting in 13 straight points. I can’t believe he’s still a junior.
9) The end of the game was poorly executed by Marquette. After getting the ball back down 2, they called timeout with 13 seconds left to draw up a play. Inbounding from the sideline, the Hilltoppers nearly took a 5-second penalty, and then tossed the ball directly into the hands of a defender. Two or three of the Marquette players didn’t look like they even knew what was going on. It was a very poorly executed play, and rightfully led to the loss for the Hilltoppers.
So the Red Raiders walked away with a 57-53 win in perhaps the worst played game I’ve seen in the series between the two schools. While I don’t foresee either team giving Milwaukee King a run for its money on the way to state, they’re evenly matched with each other, which should result in at least one more thrilling (if not perfectly played) game. I know I’ll be there. Will you?