Marquette vs. Oakland: Notes on Consistency
It had been some time since I’d been to the Bradley Center for a Marquette game, so last night’s invitation to see the Marquette vs. Oakland game with my friends Dez, Austin and Dave was a welcome one. It was a perfect time to see how Marquette’s stellar, but inexperienced freshmen were coming along, and to see if Marquette had finally settled on a steady rotation of big men. I was pretty much right on with what I expected with regards to both points, but I’ll get to that below:
1) Attendance was down last night, probably in part because of the particularly cold weather outside, but also probably due somewhat to the early (and bizarre) 5:30pm start. It’s taken a few years, but Marquette has finally learned its lesson–in Wisconsin, you don’t go head-to-head with the Green Bay Packers. Well, maybe you do this year, but it’s still a sound scheduling move to work around them in the future. I remember some woefully empty Sunday afternoon Marquette games back in the late 1990s...
2) I’m officially confused by the Marquette intros. Sometimes this year I’ve come to the arena and seen the traditional U2-themed player introductions, complete with this year’s video of the players walking around Milwaukee as giants en route to the game. Last night, however, was also not the first time that I’ve shown up and heard a random hip-hop song replacing the U2, and the phenomenal video of the players as giants was not shown. I don’t ask a lot from intros, but could we just pick one? I like to have some consistency when I get to the arena.
3) Oakland’s jerseys were really cool. The players’ names were placed below the numbers, rather than in the traditional spot on the shoulders. While this made the names somewhat harder to see, it also provided a cool retro look.
4) Rutgers transfer Calvin Wooten is the key player for Oakland, but mark me down as someone who doesn’t really like his game. I will admit that he was integral to the 17-1 run that Oakland used in the second half to come back from a 16-point deficit and tie the game up, but much of what he was actually doing was just driving as close as he could get to the hoop, and whether that was two feet away (which it seldom was) or 15 feet away, just throwing the ball at the basket. For a good portion of the second half, you knew that if he received the ball, no one else on his team was going to touch it. A bunch of his shots went in, but you knew that it wasn’t the type of thing that would work for the rest of the game. And it didn’t, as Marquette pulled away at record speed after Oakland’s brief run.
5) Marquette’s Golden Eagle mascot was dressed in holiday apparel last evening, but it just didn’t quite work. The Eagle was supposed to be Santa Claus, because he was wearing a long, gray beard. However, his costume was not the traditional predominantly red that Santa wears, since that’s not one of Marquette’s colors, and in fact, is a dominant or secondary color for several of Marquette’s biggest rivals (Louisville, Wisconsin and Cincinnati come to mind). Instead, the mascot had a blue costume with gold trim, which along with the beard, essentially made him look like an elderly elf. My suggestion for next year? Let the Eagle wear a proper Santa costume. I think we all know that he’s just spreading holiday cheer, and that he’s not the type to defect to Louisville.
6) Oakland’s Shawn Hopes is a big dude. He’s listed at 6'7" and 275 pounds, and looks more like a football lineman than a basketball center. One of my favorite plays of the night had to be when he had a charge called on him as he took out two Marquette players. The PA announcer took this opportunity to aptly note "Two for the price of one!" I doubt I could have come up with a better line.
7) A booster who was in the stands (okay, courtside seats) last evening received a special birthday greeting on the Jumbotron, complete with a video of all the individual players spliced together singing different sections of "Happy Birthday." Excellent piece here. Two things really stuck out about the video, though. First, Joe Chapman never sang. Instead, he was taped clapping at the end of the song. It sort of seemed like he just didn’t want to sing. Second, Wesley Matthews got the part where you say the name of the person with the birthday, and instead of an actual name, just sang the generic words "Marquette fan." Would it have been that cumbersome to actually work in the person’s name each time? They can’t possibly do more than 4-5 of these birthday wishes all season. Why not pull Matthews aside before practice each time and say "Wesley–we need you to do the song again, but this time use the name "Tom." Okay?" Heck, Tom Crean tapes a 2 minute message to the fans right before every game, so it has to be do-able. And I think it would make the segment even cooler.
8) There were many attempts at alley-oop dunks at the end of the game by Marquette. Let me be among the first to say that Marquette is one of the worst teams that I’ve ever seen at running alley-oops. They toss errant passes and they stubbornly refuse to abandon a play and hold onto the ball when a play is clearly defended. However I’m willing to put up with the 5-1 turnover to conversion rate that running alley oop plays will cause the Golden Eagles if I can see a few more Dominic James alley-oop dunks. There are few things more entertaining than seeing a 5'10" freak of nature pluck a ball out of the air and toss it down on a defender. And just think–we’re 11 games into James’ freshman season, and he’s already doing things like this. Assuming he’s around when he’s a senior, we could see moves that have previously only been seen in the video game NBA Jam. (He’s on fire!!!!) Yes, I’m calling for somersaults in 2008-9.
9) Leading Marquette scorers last night were Jerel McNeal, who did most of his damage in the first half, and Wesley Matthews, who took over in the second half. As usual, Dominic James was his dazzling self, as well. These guys are gelling quicker than even I expected, but it’s still going to be up and down along the way. In that respect, last night’s game was pretty telling. Marquette had two excellent stretches and one horrible stretch. That’s what it’s going to be like as they learn their way. But with the amount of excellent I’ve seen so far, the bright future seems to be coming quicker every day.
10) Here’s Marquette’s breakdown of minutes for post players: Ryan Amoroso (20), Mike Kinsella (16), Ousmane Barro (6), Jamil Lott (5), Chris Grimm (2), Dwight Burke (2). I’ll discount Burke, since his minutes were in garbage time, but after that, you’ve got five guys platooning in one and a half spots (assuming the three guard lineup, and the need to have Steve Novak on the floor). Can this possibly be a good thing? I like making guys compete, but at some point, I’d have to think that this approach has to play with the players’ heads. After all, Barro and Lott have each started games this year, and Grimm has played big minutes in past seasons. Last night they combined for 13 minutes. I guarantee that one of them will be starting again at some point in the next 5-6 games, too. How do you mentally prepare for that? There’s something to be said for consistency, even at the expense of a small bit of motivation.
And with the end of the game, I left the arena to head home like a good Wisconsinite and enjoy the Green Bay Packer game. Actually, I didn’t really want to watch the football game, but we’re coming up on the end of the year, and I have to get a few more hours of Packer viewing under my belt in order to renew my Wisconsin residency. Although, at least if I got deported to Illinois there would still be good basketball to watch...