Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Bottoming Out: Marquette-Western Michigan

Well, I think it's safe to say that we've hit the low-water mark of the Tom Crean era at Marquette. Absolutely ruined after the injury to star guard, Travis Diener, the Golden Eagles lost their first round NIT matchup against Western Michigan by a score of 54-40. After seeing these guys advance to the Final Four only two short years ago, this was pretty painful to watch. The good news is that Crean has some allegedly spectacular freshmen coming in (though that's pretty much what we've heard for the last 3 years, as well). The bad news is that they'll still be freshmen next year, and the Golden Eagles' transition into the Big East is likely going to be a harsh introduction to the college game. Tough as it was, I watched the entire game on ESPN at my buddy Kosta's place. Here are my thoughts:

1) People must have seen this horrific end coming. Like I said yesterday, if you can't get me to come to a game, something's wrong. Frankly, I would have enjoyed being at the game, but given that tickets ranged from $9-$27 and I can never park near the Bradley Center for less than $8 for a Marquette game, I figured I'd stay home. Plus, I don't know that I could have found anyone to go to the game with me. I know a number of season ticket holders, but didn't know anyone who was going to the game. Actually, check that--my dad asked one of the other attorneys at our office (and probably the biggest Marquette supporter that I know) if he was going. He replied that he would probably go if the guy that he usually goes to games with couldn't get rid of his tickets, but he didn't really want to go. That's the type of buzz that this game generated.

2) Even Marquette must have known that this wasn't going to be a big attendance game. My buddy Dez, one of the season-ticket holders that I know, emailed me yesterday to mention that he just received a phone call from assistant athletic director, Jack Harbaugh, asking him to attend the game that evening. I wasn't sure if this was one of those recorded calls like I repeatedly received from George Bush last fall, but Dez did confirm that this was no recording--Harbaugh was actually jockeying the phones. When the assistant athletic director is doing telemarketing, things can't be good. Five minutes later I got a phone call from my friend Amy, who has season tickets with her husband. While making small talk, I noted Dez's phone call to Amy, and she noted that she and her husband would not be attending the game, despite the voice mail that her husband had received a day earlier from a distressed Tom Crean. I didn't confirm if this was a recording or not. If it wasn't, I'm not sure whether to admire Crean for his dedication to connecting with fans, or feel sorry for his need to do this for last night's game.

3) Final attendance, per the box score: 3181. Ouch. Even I thought they would crack the 4000 mark. I guess Dez was not so far off when, in reference to last week's high school game being shifted, he noted "I heard they are moving the game to the Whitefish Bay gym to make it look like a sellout.”

4) Last night was George Thompson's last game as color analyst on the radio broadcast. Perhaps a desire by fans to get a final George fix was one of the reasons for the spotty attendance at the game itself? Luckily for me, I had the foresight to pop in an audio tape to record the first 45 minutes of the broadcast before I went to Kosta's. That's definitely going in the archives.

5) Marquette was 1-21 from 3-point range. That's not easy to do, especially when you have a weapon like Steve Novak, who I still believe shoots the ball as well as anyone in the country when he gets into a rhythm. Novak wasn't getting good looks, though, and near the end had to start forcing things up. At least he was occasionally close with his shots, unlike some of his teammates, who were tossing up some serious bricks. I can't imagine that I'll see a team shooting performance like this for quite awhile.

6) I need to work in something positive about this game, and thankfully, I like to look at positives, so I can note that Todd Townsend continued to actually play well in ending his career. For a guy that couldn't seem to find his way off of the bench for a year and a half, Townsend had a very nice final month as a Golden Eagle, in stark contrast to the rest of his team.

7) Again, trying to remain positive, Dameon Mason showed flashes of brilliance, particularly on one nice play where he created oodles of space on a drive down the lane for a layup. I think much of the next two seasons depends on whether he can be the talented, explosive Dameon Mason most of the time, instead of the one that wasn’t even starting earlier this year.

8) Well, Mike Kinsella really can shoot, but I still don’t think much of his court presence as a whole. Hopefully that’s just a Marcus Jackson-type injury problem, and everything will be fixed by next year.

9) Levi Rost from Western Michigan jumped so little on his jumpshots that he seemed to be nearly shooting a set shot. Sadly, it was a set shot that repeatedly went in.

10) Okay, it’s not the game itself, but I saw the worst public service announcement ever during the game. This was probably the only thing worse than the game itself. A mother is in the kitchen asking her daughter about her schedule for the week while she pours some milk or something. They run down Wednesday through Friday and the daughter notes that she has things like dance class, soccer practice and voice lessons after school on those days. Then the mother gets to Saturday and the daughter excitedly says that she’s going to the mall with some friend of hers. The mother looks at her daughter and tells her that that won’t happen, and that she’ll instead be going the movies with her parents. Then the screen fades to the words “Partnership for a Drug Free America.” What!?! Yeah, having no friends and parents who shelter me from any mildly uncontrolled situation in life—that’s my anti-drug. Can this possibly be a good message? Maybe I'm missing something, and Sbarro is the new place where kids are scoring crack these days, but aside from that being the case, could letting a teenager go to the mall for an afternoon to relax actually be a bad thing?

11) To his credit, Tom Crean came out for the final post-game radio show of the year. He sounded despondent, but handled himself okay, I thought. He basically said that he had no guards, and that he would never again put himself in a position to be caught without guards. This would be a major slap in the face to Dameon Mason and Joe Chapman, except for the fact that neither really came into Marquette as a true guard. So when you look at it, there really wasn’t much to work with at the end of the year.

And so, the season for Marquette is closed. I’d like to say that the only place to go from here is up, but with a schedule including a pre-season tournament and a slate of brutal Big East games, things could very well go downhill next year. Here’s hoping that the learning is intense for the freshman guards and the one transfer who can begin playing next year, because the 2006-7 season will be key for Marquette.


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