Sunday, November 20, 2005

Blue & Gold Classic Redux

Friday night took me down to the Bradley Center for the opening round of Marquette’s annual Blue & Gold Classic, which over the past several years has become a sad excuse to get corporate sponsorship for two otherwise pedestrian games on Marquette’s home schedule. I went with my buddy Dez, who’s quickly becoming my go-to basketball watching friend. Anyway, onto the evening itself, consisting of two games: Winthrop vs. IUPUI and Marquette vs. Rice. Thoughts below:

1) When Dez and I walked into the Bradley Center at halftime of the Winthrop-IUPUI game, we were among probably 150 fans in the entire building. It was bizarre. I’ll grant you, Marquette is always the big draw in the Blue & Gold Classic, but I still expected a few more for the early game. Both Dez and I had done enough requisite research to know that Winthrop was not exactly a push-over in terms of mid-majors. And let’s not forget, Marquette would have to play one of them the next night. What better place to anticipate matchups?

2) I wish I had more to say about the Winthrop-IUPUI game, but to be honest, I didn’t watch it as closely as I could have. I didn’t immediately know who anyone on either team was, I got caught up for awhile trying to buy beer from an inept concession worker who couldn’t figure out how to open his cash register drawer, and I was getting my first chance to look at factoids in the Marquette program. So my attention to the game was weaker than usual. And let’s be honest–this game would have been a lot more interesting had it not been played in a cavernous arena with 150 fans (100 of whom were likely ignoring the game) present. Still, I had a sense that Winthrop was every bit as good as Blue Ribbon made them out to be.

3) Marquette returned some of it’s excitement to the player intros on Friday night, showing off the same video that they had used at midnight madness a few weeks earlier, as well as new individual player intro videos. If I haven’t made reference to the general intro video before, it’s a really cool piece of work. Each of the players is a giant, walking around various areas and key buildings in the Milwaukee area. Eventually they converge on the Bradley Center, and being giants, lift up the arena roof to get a peek at what’s going on inside. It works because it’s both technologically interesting, and is done in a light, humorous way. Kudos to whoever came up with this concept.

4) I looked at Dez about a minute and a half into the game and said “Marquette’s going to run away with this one tonight.” And given that my faith in Marquette from game to game this year is pretty low, that’s saying something about Rice.

5) Why didn’t I like Rice? At least two of their players had bizarre hitches in their shots. I was actually surprised at how well they shot the ball in the first half, given that some of them looked like middle-schoolers who had not learned proper mechanics, but their hot shooting wore off in the second half. You sort of knew it would.

6) Marquette went with the same starting lineup as in its second exhibition game, with Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews, Steve Novak, and Jamil Lott staring. Based on the play I’ve seen so far, barring injury or one Tom Crean’s odd attempts to shake things up, I see no reason why this won’t be the starting lineup all year. These are clearly the best guys available, with one brief, but notable exception, which I’ll talk about in my next point.

7) I’ve been a big believer that Dan Fitzgerald was over-hyped as a key player for the Golden Eagles. And to be honest, I still think that some of my friends were expecting too much from the guy, but if he can put out an effort like he did on Friday every night of the year, he’s going to be a very solid player for Marquette. I think he clearly won the backup point guard job (I think I can get used to having a 6'9" point guard) on Friday night with his steady play, and handful of spectacular passes. And there’s a good reason that he’s not starting. If his play continues, he’ll be the perfect sixth-man–a rock solid performer who can come in and calm things down.

8) In the second half Jerel McNeal had a steal where I couldn’t believe that he even got near the ball. I hate to keep saying how quick he is on defense, but he blows you away every time you watch his hands or feet.

9) I went to purchase a second round of beers during the second half and foolishly went to the “premium” beer booth in the concourse. This resulted in me getting two ridiculously small Spotted Cows (for those of you out-of-staters, this is one of Wisconsin’s more popular, and more tasty micro-brews) for $6.50 apiece. And while the size of the beers was disturbing in relation to their cost, once I got back to my seat I was more upset with my choice of beer than the price itself. I like Spotted Cow a lot, but on Friday night I realized that it’s not a beer that is meant to be consumed while watching a basketball game at an arena. Sporting events are about cheap (well, not at the arena, but in daily life) macro-brews. If you’re in the stands, you should be drinking the beer of the people. That’s why I vow that on the rare nights when I actually am drinking at games this year, I will drink nothing but Miller Lite. This I can promise.

10) Though Marquette finally out-rebounded someone, the big men were still lacking in the game against Rice. Rice was getting into the lane easily and had lots of opportunities to get off easy lay-ups. Fortunately they weren’t getting second chances, and that’s a nice start, but someone’s got to start closing down the lane. Of course, since the lineup is far from settled, it’s unclear (other than Jamil Lott, who’s clearly the best big man so far) who’ll be getting the opportunity to make these plays.

And due to my Saturday night plans, I didn’t make it down to night #2 of the Blue and Gold Classic, which ended up being a rare loss by Marquette in its home tournament. Two quick thoughts on that:

1) As I was leaving the arena on Friday night, I noted that my official prediction for the next night’s game was Winthrop winning by 6 points. They won by 7. On rare occasions, I can get these things right.

2) It needs to be asked–who scheduled Winthrop for this thing? Because it was one of the stupidest scheduling choices that anyone could have made. Winthrop is one of the better mid-majors out there this year, which means essentially nothing to the average fan who only knows that Winthrop isn’t a big name school. Thus, if Marquette wins the tournament, beating Winthrop along the way, they get no credit, because to most of the general public it seems like they beat up on one of their infamously second-rate early season opponents. If they lose to Winthop, as they did on Saturday, 90% of the people out there think that it’s an embarrassing loss to a no-name school. But it’s not. Marquette lost to a very good mid-major. No, they still shouldn’t be losing that game (well, maybe this year they should), but it’s a lot more forgivable than losing to a truly inept opponent.

If I’m setting the schedule for the Blue & Gold Classic, I’m either filling it with totally inept mid-majors, or more likely, due to the tournament nature of things, I’m bringing in a mediocre team from a major conference to meet Marquette in the finals. Because let’s face it, losing to Colorado might not be any be any better from a basketball standpoint than losing to Winthrop, but most casual fans are going to forgive you a lot easier for losing to a “name” school like Colorado. Of course, if I had it my way, the Blue & Gold would still be what it was in my childhood: a thinly veiled excuse to get Marquette and Wisconsin to play a game in the finals. But that’s a topic for another day.

More to follow on my weekend. Stay tuned...


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