Marquette vs. IPFW: Wake Me Up When It's Over
Well, we’ve hit that rare time of the year when basketball is slightly tough to stomach. Gone are the interesting pre-season tournament matchups, and the joy of simply seeing your team take the floor, no matter who they’re playing. Late December means that teams like Marquette and Wisconsin are in the midst of feasting on their sixth or seventh opponent who you’ve never heard of. And it means that exams will deplete the student sections and keep teams from going anywhere far away or doing anything too interesting. Usually I can look to UWM’s early start to conference season to act as a big pick-me-up right around this time of year, but the suspension of Torre Johnson earlier this week downgraded the Panther season from “exciting” to merely “somewhat entertaining to watch.” With things as mundane as they are now, the major conferences can’t start their seasons soon enough.
But the good news is that even if college basketball isn’t totally entertaining right now, it’s still better than most other things out there (particularly with that pesky writers’ strike keeping me from seeing new episodes of the ABC breakout hit “Cavemen”). With that in mind, I trudged down to the Bradley Center last night to watch Marquette take on IPFW. I’d seen the Mastadons take on Wisconsin earlier in the year, so I knew it wouldn’t be pretty. And it wasn’t. Thoughts below:
1) At least from where I’m sitting, Dan Fitzgerald looks like just about the most positive man alive. He’s been out of the lineup with an injury for four games, and during every one of them he’s been the first guy up at timeouts patting his teammates on the back and has been constantly yelling encouragement from the sidelines. I’m not sure if he should look into being a youth coach when he’s done playing, or if he should try to carve out a niche as a professional encourager. But either way, Fitzgerald looks like a guy I’d want on my team, no matter what game or other task the team in question is intended to engage in.
2) The IPFW bench, less than two minutes into the game, recorded the earliest technical foul that I’ve ever seen. Marquette then chose Dominic James to shoot the technical foul shots, which prompted my buddy Dez to note that times have changed if James is suddenly shooting well enough from the line to merit a being selected as the designated foul shooter in this situation. James then promptly clanked both shots off of the rim. Way to see that coming, Dez.
3) As always, I’m perplexed by Tom Crean’s handling of his big men. Early in the game I commented to my friends that Dwight Burke’s surprisingly good play lately could only mean one thing--Burke would lose his starting job and be playing 8 minutes per game within the next two games. Looks like we’re on our way there, as last night Burke played just 12 minutes, and on the post-game radio show, Crean complained that Burke hadn’t brought sufficient energy to the game or rebounded well enough for his height. That does seem to be the standard formula in benching these guys. Not that I minded the four guard, plus Lazar Hayward lineup (actually, I really liked it), but it still seems like the last big man who could feel secure about his place in the Marquette lineup was Bo Ellis.
4) Maurice Acker has quickly become the guy who my eyes are always drawn to when he’s on the floor. He always seems to be pestering the opposing team’s point guard with as much energy as he can on defense, and gets into the lane with great ease and regularity. Back when Acker originally announced his transfer to Marquette, I wondered how the heck they were going to use that many guards. Now I know that Acker’s simply not a guy you can turn down if he wants to play for you. The guy brings it every second he’s on the floor.
5) Kudos to the video production team for a much improved set of snippets where Marquette players address the crowd on the scoreboard video screen this year. For the last two years, we’ve had to sit through an awful video of Dominic James yelling “Marquette! Marquette! We can’t hear you!” as he attempted to appear as he was looking down on the crowd from the scoreboard, but instead just looked like he was talking to his arms as he flexed. But the players in the newly produced videos actually do a good job of selling the illusion that they’re looking down at the crowd. Much less awkward.
6) It only happened briefly, since it ended when Ousmane Barro entered the game following a made foul shot, but for 10 glorious seconds, my five favorite Marquette players to watch shared the floor. For the record, those five guys are Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal, David Cubillan, Maurice Acker and Lazar Hayward.
7) I was a fan of the big cardboard heads on display in the student section when they popped up a few seasons ago. But the unveiling of a new head that fans have voted for online at each game seems a bit overdone now. Last night I actually sat through the theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey” while Stephen Colbert’s head was unveiled. Perhaps a bit overly dramatic on the music, I think. Was there anyone in the arena who really cared all that much whose head would be on display? If even I haven’t been to that website to vote, I have no idea who is concerned with this issue this trivial.
8) The Golden Eagle mascot was wearing a Santa beard last night, which got me wondering--does Marquette make its own beard in that situation, or is there a company out there that makes oversized mascot beards for that niche market.
9) Tom Crean joked on his post-game show that he was going to leave Dominic James and Jerel McNeal at the Bradley Center to work on shooting free throws rather than let them return to campus last night. With the combination of their poor foul shooting last night, and Crean’s intensity, part of me wondered if that wasn’t a joke.
With yet another blowout win in hand, I walked out of the Bradley Center and back to my car. Amidst the conversation about the tricks my friend Dave played on his the foreign exchange student that he and his parents hosted when he was in high school, I kept thinking about how great conference season would be. After all, that’s why we sit through the IPFWs and Sacramento States of the world–to get to the Big East schedule. And if we can just make it through the holidays, basketball with be 100% fun again. In the meantime, I’ll just settle for 80% for awhile. Maybe a high school game would make me feel better...