Marquette vs. UConn: The Injury Bug Bites
It was a rough night for Marquette last night, losing not only a big game, but also one of its key players for the rest of the year. There was a buzz of excitement in the air last evening that is rarely seen at a basketball game around here, and it’s a shame that things didn’t turn out better than they did. But even so, it was still a fun night. Some reflections below:
1) Obviously the story of the night is not the loss to UConn, but the loss of starting point guard Dominic James for the year with a broken foot. Losing a four year starter always hurts, but it hurts a bit more with James, who this year finally seemed to be figuring out how to best help his team. After an incredible freshman year where James was showered with accolades and talked about as an early first-round NBA draft pick, his subsequent sophomore and junior seasons felt at times like they were merely vehicles for him to prove to scouts that he could shoot from the outside (ironically, he ended up proving that he still couldn't shoot from the outside). But this year he seemed to actually relish his role as a defender and distributor. Sure, I still cringed when he pulled up for three-pointers this year, but that was more a conditioned response from the past, since his shot selection was now much improved. James will undoubtedly be missed by Marquette down the stretch. It remains to be seen, however, whether his injury will turn the Golden Eagles from a special team to a merely excellent one.
2) Very impressive showing by the two gentlemen who broke out a choreographed dance routine to the song "Thriller" that was playing during the Jumbotron dance competition that takes place every game. As always, the winner of the contest won a $250 gift certificate to Bubb's Barbeque, sponsor of the contest. I've been sort of thrown by this contest all season long for two reasons. First, outside of their sponsorship of Marquette games, no one that I know has ever heard of Bubb's Barbeque. Second, $250 seems like it would buy one hell of a lot of barbeque. For a place that no one's heard of, it almost seems like a desperate type of prize to give away. Part of me wonders if Bubb's Barbeque doesn't actually exist, but is simply a fake sponsor designed to bring more excitement to the game.
3) While the drama of the game was outstanding, the seating conflict in my section may have been almost as amusing. My section was located behind one of the handicapped seating areas. One gentleman in the handicapped area with a family member spent a good portion of the game standing up to cheer on Marquette. Several people in my section took exception to this and yelled at him to sit down and stop blocking their view. Eventually the usher was asked by one of the people in my section to intervene. The usher spoke with the standing gentleman and the complaining parties without actually resolving anything, and then called for more Bradley Center personnel to further sort things out. As an impartial observer, it was unclear whether the usher had actually taken a side in this matter. For the second half, as many as five, but at no time fewer than three Bradley Center employees maintained a presence at the entrance to our section. At various times the employees would talk to the standing guy and then talk to the complainants. The standing guy continued to stand from time to time (at certain times, I suspect, just egg on the loudest complainers), the complainers kept complaining, and none of the five representatives of the arena ever did anything to even come close to resolving the situation.
My take on the situation? Aside from viewing it as the most mind bogglingly ineffective usher moment ever, I think that pretty much everyone involved in the situation was an idiot. The complainers were idiots for complaining about a guy who was probably no closer than 8 feet to any of them and who blocked only a small percentage of the view in our section (not to mention that no one in my section last night seemed much interested in standing, themselves. No one has a right to an absolutely unimpeded view. The standing guy was an idiot for frequently standing in the designated handicapped area and acting in an openly defiant manner to those who questioned his right to stand there. And obviously, the Bradley Center staff is at the top of the idiot list, for involving five employees in the situation without even coming close to solving the problem. (Unfortunately, this was not the grandest display of idiocy I would see on the evening, as later, while grabbing post-game drinks at a bar, one of my friends nearly came to blows with another gentleman over a game of pool that neither of them were participants in. Brilliant, guys.)
4) For all of the fear about Hasheem Thabeet, I thought he turned out to be just about what was expected against Marquette. He had some highlight-reel blocks, his mere presence altered a lot of shots, and he had the occasional moment where someone dumped the ball into him on offense at a spot above the heads of everyone else on the floor (I think I even saw one botched "Kenny George" moment, where a player just randomly tossed the ball up in the lane and waited for Thabeet to go get it). I don’t know what Thabeet is thinking about in terms of NBA future, but I hope he sticks around another year. As is well known, his offensive game needs some work, and I’d say he’s a textbook example of a big guy who hurts himself by needlessly bringing the ball down below his waist in the post. Stop the rhythm dribble, Hasheem!
5) At one point in the first half, I actually theorized that Marquette would have an easier task shooting the ball in the second half because Connecticut was dunking so much that it would lead to a loosened rim.
6) I’d like to give the Lynn Greer Memorial Award (In honor of former Temple guard Lynn Greer, who put on the most frightening offensive display I’ve ever seen in person against Wisconsin back when I was in school. Contrary to what the name implies, Greer is not actually dead.) to A.J. Price. Wow. It’s one thing to go off for 36 points and hit eight 3-pointers in a night, but it’s another thing to do it with a defender like Jerel McNeal chasing you around for much of the night. At a certain point, all I could do was shake my head in amazement.
7) Just a pet peeve of mine that has been building all season, but next year can we do away with the rule where refs get to stop the game and look at a video replay to check if a player’s feet were behind the three-point line? I’d gladly accept an occasional missed call if we end the practice of breaking the flow of the game three times per night to look at the video monitor to confirm a call. It was a noble idea, but it just doesn’t work.
8) While he obviously doesn’t completely replace Dominic James, Maurice Acker gave Marquette some good minutes last night. I was never totally sure why he had recently become essentially the seventh man in a six man rotation, because he’s never been a guy that makes me concerned when he’s out there. Clearly I’d rather not have him playing 30 minutes per game, as he may do from here on out, but Acker doesn’t give you the major drop-off in the rotation that you would see if you dug into the guys after him on the bench.
9) Speaking of the guys on the bench, it’s going to be very interesting to see how Buzz Williams goes about using his rotation from here on out. While he was basically just using six guys before, with James out of the picture, he literally has just six guys that have played meaningful minutes in the last few weeks. Now’s not a great time to work a new guy into the mix, but it seems almost implausible to go another month by just riding things out with one sub now that the team is down to three stellar players instead of four.
10) It was a nice night of signs at the Bradley Center. Two favorites of mine were the giant ("not a") Dimes with Jim Calhoun’s head on them, and the "We’re Buzzed" signs made by a couple of students that inexplicably made it onto the Jumbotron. Those crazy kids and their drinking...
11) I heard a radio host earlier this week talking about how much unnecessary gloom and doom he had seen surrounding Marquette of late, with people getting overly worried about this final stretch of games. I saw a lot of that last night. One of my friends was talking last night about how this loss likely ruined Marquette’s seed for the NCAA tournament. Whoa there, calm down! Last night was tough, but in the grand scheme of things Marquette played well enough to beat 90% of the teams in the country and hung in with arguably the best team in the country. And they did so after losing a four-year starter roughly three minutes into the game. I simply can’t be too despondent over that.
So it wasn’t a great night for Marquette. I’m still optimistic going forward. Last Tuesday I predicted to some friends that Marquette would go no worse than 3-2 in their final five-game stretch. While James’ injury changes things, I still believe that my earlier prediction will prove to be correct. Marquette’s going to play three more outstanding teams, but what people seem to be discounting a bit too much now that we’re at this point in the year is that Marquette’s a pretty outstanding team, too. Things will work out.
Tonight will be a bit of a change-up for me, as I will go from rooting for Marquette, to rooting vehemently against Marquette. Marquette High School, that is, as Marquette battles Tosa East for the Greater Metro conference championship. Two historically fierce rivals, each with one defeat, battling for conference supremacy in the final game of the year. You couldn’t script this one much better. Marquette won the first one. How will the second game turn out? However it does, it will be fun...