Monday, January 08, 2007

Marquette vs. Syracuse: The Big East is Going To Be a Bear

Solid weekend of games for me, including my first division three game of the year. And while the wacky ending of UW-Whitewater vs. UW-River Falls deserves some discussion, I’m saving that until tomorrow. Today we’ve got Marquette’s Big East home opener to talk about. It wasn’t a pretty game for either team, but Syracuse pulled through. With a road game on Wednesday at UConn looming for Marquette, the season’s looking a lot more in disarray than it did a month ago for the Golden Eagles. But for now, let’s just talk about the ‘Cuse game:

1) Based solely on what I can remember of the year so far, I believe that last night was Lazar Hayward’s first start of the year for Marquette. I was pretty pleased with the move, since Hayward has really been coming on of late, and the starting lineup of James, McNeal (back from the head injury!), Matthews, Hayward and Barro seemed to be the strongest starting lineup that I had seen all year. And Hayward got off to a nice start, pulling down a few rebounds, tossing in a few layups, and generally being one of the more active Marquette players. It looked like it was going to be a nice night for him, but inexplicably, he seemed to spend more time on the bench than he did in the game. I’ve always had questions about Tom Crean’s substitution patterns, but the failure to use Hayward ranks up there with the most perplexing moves that I’ve seen over the past few years.

2) Worst moment of the game? That would have to be the moment in the second half when Dominic James missed 3 straight foul shots after being fouled shooting a three-pointer, and a handful of plays later, Jerel McNeal missed two more. I can’t think of too many teams that are going to win when their two biggest stars miss five consecutive foul shots.

3) As I listened to the post game show, Tom Crean took issue with the crowd booing after the aforementioned five consecutive missed foul shots. He made the very valid point that those guys aren’t out there trying to miss foul shots, and the crowd needs to pick them up. And while I agree in principle, and generally hold the view that there’s almost no time that you boo your own team, I can’t say that I took too much offense at people who chose to boo. It’s pretty unacceptable when a team misses five straight foul shots, and there’s got to be some way to show frustration.

4) Mark me down as a fan or Syracuse center Darryl Watkins, who did a nice job of taking over the lane on both sides against Marquette. Sure, with Marquette’s odd hodgepode of big men, that might not be the toughest task in the world, but Watkins nonetheless had a very solid game last night.

5) Brutal as some portions of the game were, the lowlight of the night came during the halftime show, which featured what is normally a rock-solid entertainment feature, a team of gymnasts. Before the team trotted out for halftime, my friend Dez pointed them out, and made the note that this might be the night that we would be treated to the Jesse White Tumbling Team, annually Marquette’s best halftime show (just as the F-M Acro Team, North Dakota’s Official Goodwill Ambassadors are Wisconsin’s best halftime show). Instead, we were treated to a local Milwaukee attempt at a Jesse White-esque team. And for the most part, I could deal with the non-Jesse White level showmanship, occasional slip ups, and the smaller configuration of matts, because let’s face it, even if a guy isn’t good at playing to the crowd and falls over once in awhile, a dude who can walk on his forearms is still cool. But things took a turn for the worse during the finale. Let’s just say that if I’m a Marquette cheerleader, I’m going to think long and hard about helping out a halftime act again. It’s one thing if a gymnast is leaping off a trampoline over 10 people, messes up, and clips one of his own guys at the end. But it’s a lot more frightening when that gynmast has a problem on the trampoline and plows full speed into the first five people, all female cheerleaders, knocking the entire row of people over. I’ll give the cheerleaders this, though–despite taking a nasty hit from an errant acrobat, they hung in there for the second attempt, which finally did go off without a hitch. But a Jesse White team this was not.

6) Marquette wore its gold uniforms for last night’s game, while Syracuse wore its road orange. I’m not sure what the line of the night regarding the ultra-vibrant uniform color scheme was. Dez’s brother called him to note that he was watching the game on TV, and it looked like a kaleidoscope had thrown up, which was an interesting take. I think I’m going to give the nod to my friend Greg, however, who sincerely asked me at one point "Yellow and orange? What color do you get if you combine those?" After he speculated for a moment that brown would be the resulting hue, I used my third grade art class learnings to inform him that it would just be a lighter shade of orange. He seemed appeased.

7) Maybe we all saw this coming, but the Journal Sentinel did a nice job of pointing it out beforehand: Marquette’s not at its best against a zone. They’d better work on zone offense, though, because after last night, where they at times didn’t look like they had actually installed a zone offense, they’re going to be seeing a lot more zone defense.

8) Kudos to the sponsors of the halfcourt shot contest last night. Typically, the halfcourt shot contest during one of the timeouts allows a Marquette student to shoot to win something like $10,000.00, or and RV (the sponsor is an RV company, whose name escapes me at the moment). Over the past few seasons, they’ve made contests like this essentially impossible to win (my favorite ridiculous criteria for winning being that the contestant make two out of three halfcourt shots, none of which could be from the same exact location). But last night the sponsor offered up a semester’s tuition for a single halfcourt shot. No catches. If that wasn’t good enough, they then went above and beyond, by allowing the contestant, who had a near miss on the half courter, to shoot a three-pointer for the same prize (instead of the usual pair of tickets to the next game). Faced with this information right before he had to shoot the three-pointer, the contestant totally psyched himself out and missed the rim, but at least we finally got to see a competition that the contestant had a fighting chance of winning.

9) I’m going to be interested in watching how quickly people will start to turn on Tom Crean if Marquette’s slide continues. His coaching came up among my friends and I on our walk back to our cars. My opinion on him remains the same: he’s solid when it comes to running and promoting a program, and is a great motivator, but in terms of actual basketball coaching ability, he’s probably a bit lacking. That said, I think he may have to deal with a bit more garbage from the fans than he deserves in the next few weeks. But for the money that he’s making, I guess he can put up with some junk.

10) I recognize that it was a Sunday night game, and that students are still on break, but I was sort of disappointed in the attendance at the game. Plenty of sections had people in them, but there were definitely more holes than usual in the lower part of the arena. I, for one, was excited to see Syracuse come to town for the first time that I can recall, even if they’re not as great as Syracuse usually is.

And in their second straight Big East game, Marquette’s lackluster foul and three-point shooting ability cost them again. This week should be less-than-interesting, as a trip to UConn is never the best way to get a team back on track (then again, UConn didn’t look like a great way to start conference season last year, and that turned out great, so who knows?). But hopefully the tide should start to turn back a bit by the time that West Virginia comes to town next weekend.

And finally, before I go for the day, I forgot to pass out congratulations and condolences last week to my buddy Dez, whose wife gave birth to their first child, a son, on January 1st. The reasons for the congratulations are obvious. The reasons for the condolences are because Dez, a longtime North Carolina fan, has decided along with his wife to call their son by a family nickname. That nickname? Duke. That’s going to make for some conflicted formative basketball years for the kid...

Back tomorrow with my firsthand account of the confusing end of the Whitewater-River Falls game, and various other thoughts.


At 11:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

West - I agree with your comments about Hayward. I was excited to see him start and thought he played well at the beginning, especially on the offensive boards. I think Crean pulled him due to a lack of defensive rebounding. His replacement, Dwight Burke, is ok on defense, but has no offensive game. MU's offense put Burke on the wing many times in the 2nd half. The MU players never even thought of passing it to him. I was thinking that Hayward would have been a better option there as he can shoot the three a bit and can also penetrate. I think that move may have opened up the offense a bit. Unfortunately, stubborn Crean went with the defensive minded Burke and we were relegated to watching MU pass the ball around the perimeter resulting in a wild 3-point shot taken at the end of the shot clock.


Oh yeah - Fitzgerald was quite worthless last night.

At 2:45 PM, Blogger Dez said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 2:47 PM, Blogger Dez said...

I'm just glad the boy's from Chapel Hill made it to #1 by the time Duke was 1 week old.


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