Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Marquette vs. Louisville: I Left Work Early for This?

Going to 6pm Marquette games is a pain. I have to leave work early to get to them, traffic on the way to them stinks because of rush hour, and because everyone is on the exact same timetable as me, getting into a reasonably priced parking garage downtown takes massive patience (which is why I ended up in an unreasonably priced parking garage last night). But when there’s a game like Marquette vs. Louisville going on, you just have to suck it up and go. When you’ve got two programs that always seem to give you an entertaining game and two coaches that appear to hate one another, it doesn’t get much better than that. Things weren’t as entertaining as anticipated last night, but I still would have been nervous about missing a classic game if I hadn’t made the effort to get to the Bradley Center. A few thoughts below:

1) During introductions last night it was clear that Louisville was all business. No running onto the floor–everyone just huddled up while the announcer ticked off the names.

2) I may have mentioned it before, but Marquette player introductions are totally anticlimactic, since there’s usually only one spot in the lineup that’s up for grabs, and they always announce that guy first. Last night it was Dwight Burke. Apparently Ousmane Barro didn’t put out enough in the last game to take the spot back. (I kid here, but I’m actually done for the year with slamming Tom Crean for his ever-changing rotation of big men. Who do you go with when you legitimately have no idea what any of your guys are going to give you on a given night?)

3) Dominic James missed his first start ever last night because he apparently had a pretty nasty flu. From everything I’ve heard, his flu was completely legit, and very severe, but with the way he’s been playing of late, it frankly wouldn’t have been all that confusing to see him sitting down due to contracting poor-play-itis. It was particularly unnerving last night to see him fire up a three-pointer where he drifted about 2 feet to his right after he jumped to take the shot. Watching him dominate the ball like he often does was no treat either. When James is good, he’s really good, but when he’s bad, he’s completely detrimental to the flow of his team’s offense. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a guy who’s so extreme both ways.

4) It’s tough to watch a Louisville game at the Bradley Center because after seeing Louisville guard Jerry Smith play so many high school games around here, it’s sort of tough for me to turn off my cheering reflex with regard to him. I caught myself twice pumping my fist after big shots of his last night. I’m thankful that I was out of town for last year’s game, because I’m pretty sure I would have totally lost it and gotten my ass kicked after he hit his game-winning three-pointer.

5) While it was great to see David Padgett get into early foul trouble, and Derrick Caracter get into even quicker foul trouble, the fact that Louisville has four good big men to Marquette’s zero somewhat mitigated my excitement about this circumstance.

6) The gigantic t-shirt cannon which the Marquette cheerleaders have taken to using during timeouts this year was particularly amusing last night. In the past, it has shown the power to get t-shirts to the upper deck of the arena. But last night, its power fell just short, and numerous t-shirts bounced off the lighted ring separating the two levels of the arena. It almost felt like the t-shirt gun was taunting the people in the upper deck.

7) I think it’s only been a few weeks since they’ve been using them for anything, but in the couple of times that I’ve heard them introduced this year, the Marquette dance team has not been using the name “Intensity” as they had in the past. What happened there? I’m speculating that an official from the school caught them doing a really half-assed practice session and stripped them of the name until they could live up to it.

8) Highlight of the game had to be when super-fan Richard Smith was named, along with his wife, as season ticket holder of the game. Smith is better known as the guy who’s always wearing a suit during weekday games, and who loves to jump up and down when “Jump Around” gets played on the arena sound system. Last night he did some jumping at halfcourt, before leading the student section in some jumping, while a montage of him during past games was played on the scoreboard. Smith’s enthusiasm is infectious, and you can’t help but love him, proving that sometimes being nerdy can be totally cool.

9) Edgar Sosa had a 14-point first half last night, and my friend Dez and I were talking about how Sosa’s a guy that can get really hot, but also had the potential to completely disappear at any point. With Sosa having just four points in the second half, I’m glad to report that occasionally Dez and I are right about something.

10) Seventy-five percent of the time, I feel like the people sitting around me are either idiots, or are taking things way too seriously (conversely, people in front of me and whoever I’m sitting with probably think that I’m an idiot who doesn’t take anything seriously). But the guys behind me last night were great. They knew their basketball and knew when to just give up and laugh at something. It was re-affirming to sit in front of someone who was intelligent, and wasn’t looking to jump off a building after a hard loss. Frankly, I wasn’t sure anyone like that existed anymore. So guys in the row behind me, I salute you!

11) Finally we have a shooting contest winner. Last night a student won the Camping World contest. No, he didn’t sink the halfcourt shot and win a camper (which I still maintain would be maybe the greatest prize, other than the deed to a bar, that you could give to a college student), but he did knock down the three-pointer for a semester of free tuition. The guy next to me leaned over and noted “How happy do you think his dad is right now?” Meanwhile, I’d been thinking that the student in question basically just won the prize of getting to make the greatest call home from college ever. “Hey mom and dad–this spring’s on me.” So that was nice to see. Marquette’s time-out shooting contests sure have come a long way from a couple years back when one needed to make two of three shots from halfcourt for the tuition prize. Making the prize winnable makes things so much more exciting.

12) I’ve got a lot of problems with the announcer at Marquette games. He generally sounds like he’s announcing a pro-wrestling event, and his propensity to note Marquette obtaining possession of the ball by screaming “The rock belongs to Marquette!!!” has never sat well last with me. But last night I think I decided that my biggest pet peeve is the manner in which he calls out assists by using just the first name of the player who dished out the assist. When Marice Acker gives a particularly sweet feed to Ousmane Barro, I don’t want to hear “Barro for two, from Maurice!” Maybe I’m just becoming a grumpy old man, but I don’t want to hear calls that make it sound like the PA announcer is buddies with the team. It is possible to act excited about the home team without being completely over the top.

13) Rough defensive night for Marquette, as Louisville got lots of easy layups and dunks last night. Not to mention that I’d be scared to see the number of deflections (maybe the most important stat that Tom Crean pays attention to) that the MU staff charted last night. I’ll speculate that I think Jerel McNeal may have had more deflections by himself in a previous game than the entire team had last night.

As I left the arena following the particularly hard-to-swallow defeat, I found myself wondering what has happened to Marquette. I still stand by my assertion that at the start of conference season they were playing some of the best basketball that I’d ever seen. At that point, I’d have put them up against the 2003 Final Four team without hesitation (despite the 2003 team having far more talent). Yet here we are now, with the Golden Eagles getting off to slow starts, giving up easy baskets, and generally looking like a completely different team. Who knows where we go from here, but one thing’s for certain–there’s not much that’s going to come easy when you’re playing a Big East schedule, so if the Golden Eagles are going to get back on track, they’d better do it soon.

Back tomorrow with an array of random thoughts that have been swimming around my head for a bit.


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