Wednesday, January 04, 2006

As Usual, I'm An Idiot

Those of you who’ve been with me for awhile know that I’ve made a few comments over the past two seasons that upon having the benefit of hindsight, seem just flat out stupid. Things that come to mind last year include predicting a 5th place Big Ten finish for Northwestern, and my statement that last year’s NCAA tournament game between UWM and Illinois would not end in “a pedestrian 14-point win for the Illini,” just one day prior to Illinois beating UWM by exactly that number. But we may have a new winner for comment that looks the stupidest in hindsight. Check out my gem of a closing paragraph from yesterday:

As for tonight’s plan, I’m probably going to go contrary to what most people would expect out of me. The average basketball fan would head down to the Bradley Center tonight and take in Marquette’s inaugural game in the Big East against UConn. Indeed, this should be a fun, and historic event to be at. On the other hand, it’s also going to be more expensive and less competitive than a great high school game that’s going on tonight. Thus, I’m recording the game, and probably checking out the Milwaukee Lutheran vs. Whitefish Bay game at Bay. It should be a closer game, and I won’t have to pay $15 to park. How’s that for an economical plan?

Yep, I missed a miraculous upset of the number two team in the country in Marquette’s historic first game as a member of the Big East conference. I missed Steve Novak going off for 41 points and 16 rebounds, the latter total being one that he may not match in the next four games combined. I missed ground-breaking performances by Jerel McNeal, Joe Chapman and Ousmane Barro. I missed a rare sight (soon to be less rare): an electric crowd at the Bradley Center. And yes, I can say it for now at least, I missed Marquette vaulting itself into sole possession of first place in the Big East. (So what if we’re one game into the season and no one else has played any games?)

On the bright side, I saw two solid division two high school teams square off in a fairly evenly matched game, and I spent at least $25 less than I would have if I had sucked it up and gone downtown for the game.

As you can see, there’s not much of a bright side with regards to this one. I didn’t have a bad night at the game that I went to, by any means, but I did feel a bit embarrassed when I got home and finished watching my dark, grainy DVR recording of the game. There are certainly nights when you pick the high school game over the college game. Clearly, this should not have been one of them.

So aside from me being an utter fool, yet again, I have three general points on this game:

1) Could this have been any more of a bizarro game? An unranked Big East newcomer that has just lost one of its starters, not just beats, but dominates a perennial Big East power that just got a key player back into the lineup. Marquette, out-rebounded in its two exhibition games against a division two and a division three team, out-rebounds a team with 3 starters over 6'9". Steve Novak, typically a scoring threat, but also a defensive and rebounding liability, hauls in 16 boards and is deemed by the television crew as the “Sponsor’s Name That I Forgot Defensive Player of the Game.” In the final minutes I was half expecting walk-on guard Tommy Brice to get into the game and start tossing down alley-oop dunks over Rudy Gay’s outstretched hands. That’s just the kind of confusing night it was.

2) During an email exchange yesterday with my friend Dez, he noted to me that the point spread for this game seemed eerily low, as Connecticut was favored by only 10 points. As I thought about this seemingly low point spread, it seemed to me that betting on Connecticut to cover could be one the easiest ways to make money in the history of mankind. Then it hit me what this game was: a warning game. Over the past few years, there has come a time every 10 months or so that I see a sporting event that’s such a sure thing that it would prompt a squeaky clean guy like me to consider taking up sports gambling, if only for that night. I’ve never actually followed through on this idea, though. And it’s a good thing–after last night’s game, I’m officially 0-7 on these theoretical bets. I think games like this are some higher power’s way of warning me that the second I place a wager on a game is the second that I will lose all of the basic joy delivered by sports. So not only was this an awesome win, it helped make me a better person.

3) Make no mistake–Marquette didn’t win this game because they were playing complete lights-out basketball for 40 minutes. They won this game because they kept charging at Connecticut and refused to back down, even when things weren’t going so well. For all of the criticism that I heap on Tom Crean, one of his greatest attributes has always been that he is an incredible motivator when there’s a big game to be played. Last night Intensity was not only the name of Marquette’s dance team, but was also a word that described why this upset took place.

Part of what gives me this perspective is that while I was out checking out that high school game that I thought was so superior, my friend Dez, who wisely attended the Marquette game, called at halftime to let me know that Marquette was up by 6 points. So I flipped on the game expecting to see a Marquette team playing like I’d never seen before. Instead, I was greeted by a team that mustered up only eight points in the first eight minutes, and with the exception of Steve Novak, went 0-16 from the floor to start the game. I sat in my chair muttering at the TV, “These guys get are up 39-33 at the half?” The Golden Eagles came out far from hot, but they kept defending, and they kept attacking as if they weren’t shooting a horrid percentage. And eventually their shots started to fall (Jerel McNeal being the poster boy for a guy who couldn’t find the bottom of the net to start the game, but was absolutely filling the hoop by the end). And Connecticut couldn’t seem to buy a foul shot, ultimately closing the night out at a less than 50% mark from the line.

Along those same lines, there are going to be people out there that say Steve Novak will never have as hot a shooting hand as he did last night. And all that I can say is that those people are flat-out wrong. No, Novak’s probably never going to have a total game like this again. He’s probably not going to get to the foul line 11 times in game again this season, and the odds him pulling down 16 rebounds again in a non-recreational game, are only somewhat better than me being asked to play on the U.S. Olympic basketball team. But as far as shooting goes, Novak was only 6-13 from behind the three-point arc. I’ve already seen better performances than that from him, and I expect to see a few more before we’re done this year.

And that, you see, is the best thing about Marquette last night–although a lot of players stepped up and had their best overall games, there’s still more that can be squeezed out of this team. Sure, I still have my concerns about this team (namely, how they’ll react to games that aren’t marquee games, the fact that the rotation of big men is still totally unsettled, and the fact that their most integral player has a 50/50 chance of collapsing with cramps if he goes over 30 minutes), but last night provided plenty of reasons to be optimistic.

My final thought? Yeah, Marquette’s still going to take some lumps this year in the Big East, but they’re gelling a lot quicker than I expected. There’s a lot more reasons to be excited about Marquette basketball than there were yesterday. And a lot more reasons to buy tickets. As I’ve said before, I think this is going to be a special team two years down the road. We saw a glimpse of why last night.

And with that, I apologize to those looking for my Whitefish Bay-Milwaukee Lutheran recap. I had some great points, but when Marquette beats the number two team in the country and I stupidly refuse to attend the game, that supercedes anything I can say about the ambience of the Milwaukee Lutheran fieldhouse. Besides, it probably won’t be the last time I see either of those teams this year. Marquette’s not knocking off the #2 team again, though.


At 8:44 AM, Blogger Illiniwonk said...

As they say, hindsight is 20/20. Congrats on the big win.

At 9:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am glad I am an average basketball fan and made it to the MU game. Atmosphere was great. I still think UWM can give them a rund though.



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