Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Marquette vs. Northern State: Back to the Bradley Center

On Sunday night the entire world was watching the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. Not me, though. I was mowing my lawn, and getting ready to attend a sporting event that meant a lot more to me than some silly NFL game–Marquette vs. Northern State. That’s right, Marquette’s lone exhibition game was providing me my first opportunity to attend a live basketball game in months. My first impressions were somewhat tainted by my attendance at Marquette’s open scrimmage the prior weekend, but it was still nice to get my first look at a real game. My initial thoughts below:

1) I remember my first reaction when Marquette announced that Maurice Acker was transferring in from Ball State. I basically thought that it was ridiculous that Marquette was bringing in another point guard, given that they seemed pretty well set at that position. I figured Tom Crean was just freaked out about that year when everything went wrong and he had walk-on Tony Gries playing meaningful minutes. My position softened when it occurred to me that if any conference’s freshman of the year wants to play for your team, you pretty much need to entertain the idea. My position is further softened after seeing Acker play. He’s an excellent addition—it never hurts to have a guy that seems to love passing. Acker will make this team better.

2) I heard a bit of the Marquette radio pre-game show, and Tom Crean noted at one point that he wasn’t definitely settled on slotting Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews into the starting lineup. Yeah, why would you start all three of your best guys, all of whom have started for most of their careers? I’m really hoping Crean was joking on this point.

3) I’m giving the retro style uniforms a thumbs-up, though part of that my just be due to the fact that I’m a huge advocate of the use of powder blue in just about any uniform.

4) No Ousmane Barro in the starting lineup? I’m hoping that was just to see more of how Dwight Burke would handle filling the hole that Trevor Mbakwe’s injury leaves. Usually it’s 6-7 games into the season before Marquette’s best big man gets a stint on the bench and Tom Crean starts saying things on the post game show like “we’re not getting the rebounding that we need, and we’re trying to go with some guys that have shown us a little more in practice.” Using that tactic before the season started would be a first.

5) I’m not as down on Dwight Burke as I was after watching the team scrimmage a week ago, but still think the Mbakwe hole is probably better filled by a mix of small forward-type players like Dan Fitzgerald, Lazar Hayward, and the seemingly improved Lawrence Blackledge. They’re just more talented ballplayers. I’ll even put in a plug for Patrick Hazel, who looked a lot better than I expected at last week’s scrimmage. Burke may be clearly the most muscular guy on the team, but a good physique doesn’t guarantee good basketball.

6) There are few things in college basketball that I look forward to more than Marquette’s halftime musical chairs layup competition. Sunday night’s competition yielded one of the greatest collisions in musical chairs history as two competitors did a number on one of the folding chairs in one of the later rounds. I almost expected one of them to pick up the chair and hit the other, pro-wrestling style. The prize for the winner? A $25 gift certificate to the Marquette spirit shop. I’m almost willing to offer up another $25 of my own money in order to make it a more legit prize. Those kids are working hard.

7) Confusing play of the night–there was one kicked ball on the evening. It happened with about 29 seconds left on the shot clock, and the referee reset the shot clock after it happened. Is this reset supposed to happen? Last year they implemented that rule where the shot clock never got reset on kicks that happened with more than 15 seconds left on the shot clock. If the shot clock was under 15 seconds at the time of the kick, it just got set back to 15 seconds. In discussing it with my friend Dez at the game, we pretty much agreed that last year’s rule change made things better (albeit slightly), and figured that this was universally accepted. So, have we changed back to the old rule, or is this just a ref in an exhibition game that was stuck with his head back in the 2005-2006 season? If anyone has an answer to this, please let me know.

8) If you had polled my section and asked every person there where Northern State is located, I’m guessing maybe two people would have known. And I wouldn’t have been one of them. (I’ve since been told that it’s in South Dakota.)

9) In an ironic move, the Marquette band managed to play the least funky version ever of “Play That Funky Music.” I’m thinking that they should retire that particular piece of music.

10) As I do at the start of every year, I’m predicting a horrific injury for Wesley Matthews, as his athleticism, combined with his disregard for his own safey when trying to make a play lead to frightening situations. Just ask the camera man he nearly killed on Sunday night. I love the way this guys plays.

11) After seeing him scrimmage and play in the exhibition game, I’m not big on freshman Scott Christopherson’s game yet, but I have to respect anyone who chooses 0 as his number.

And as the clock ran out, I headed out of the arena with my friends to get home as quickly as possible. As expected, Marquette was talented and ragged, leading me to believe that as in years past, we’ll be left scared out of our minds as they look vulnerable for 8-9 games playing against inferior competition during the early season, and then things will start to click during Big East play. But I didn’t have much time to think about that–I had to get home and watch more basketball. I love November.


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