Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Marquette vs. Duke: When a Loss Is a Win

Well, it was a successful evening last night. While I had expected a big Duke victory over Marquette, the Golden Eagles hung tough for a five-point loss and served notice that they can compete with just about anyone in the country. I had the pleasure of enjoying the game at a local bar with some friends. Fortunately, we were able to keep the game and the game audio (though we could not hear it well) on over Monday Night Football. Never let it be said that college basketball can’t compete with the NFL. My thoughts are below. They’re a bit light on non-game thoughts, as the bar viewing experience always takes away most of the opportunity to focus on weird broadcast moments. But it was a good enough game (and my first extended look at Marquette) to garner several legitimate thoughts:

1) I think I’ve lost a step, because I was totally taken by surprise when I saw Joe Fulce in street clothes at the game. Despite doing my best to follow news online, I somehow missed the fact that Fulce will be out of action for a week or two with a knee injury. While Marquette suddenly has some degree of depth at the forward spot, I’d still like to see Fulce return quickly. He’s been off to a slow start, but with his performance in the Milwaukee Summer Pro-Am League, Fulce has become the Marquette player that I have grown to like an irrational amount. I see him offering big contributions somewhere down the line.

2) Finally, the Junior Cadougan that everyone has heard so much about showed up last night. Caduougan, free of pain from last year’s Achilles injury, showed that he can be a master distributer of the ball. He even hit a three pointer, which I wasn’t expecting (and I probably don’t expect much long range shooting out of Caduougan going forward). Given that his fellow guard mates include a freshman (Vander Blue) and an inconsistent guy (Dwight Buycks), it would be nice if this version of Cadougan stuck around for awhile.

3) My most awkward moment of the night? That would be when I looked at a couple of friends after a successful Plumlee to Plumlee alley-oop for Duke and noted “It’s tough to stop a pass like that between the brothers.” Realizing how that sounded as it came out of my mouth, I then felt the need to quickly add “No, I mean actual brothers who are related to one another.”

4) My friend Greg would like everyone to know that he hates Dwight Buycks. I’m putting the over-under on the number of times that I hear this during each game that I end up watching with him the rest of the year at 26. If you had the over last night, you won.

5) There are two ways that I could go with my thoughts on Davante Gardner today. I could express disappointment that he let his minutes per game average dip below his points per game average by putting up only nine points in 15 minutes. Or, I could express excitement that he put up nine points not against a dreadful non-conference foe, but against the top team in the country, who routines runs out a front line of a 6'8" guy and two 6'10" guys. I’d just assume focus on the latter, as I had some concern before last night that Gardner was simply a master of racking up stats during garbage time. Instead, just a guy with a feather-soft touch down low and an uncanny knack for scoring. As I speculated during the pre-season, Gardner may be just the guy that Marquette has long needed at the forward spot.

6) You can’t help but love the talent on Duke’s roster. They’ve got a legit national player-of-the-year candidate in Kyle Singler and a legit freshman-of-the-year candidate in Kyrie Irving (you know a freshman is good when Coach K says he’s going to alter things about Duke’s offense to play to his strengths). Yet last night Mason Plumlee was the star of the evening, throwing down dunks and leaping above everyone else for rebound after rebound. Oh, and Nolan Smith managed to log 18 points and 9 rebounds without me even noticing because of the impressive things that other guys did.

7) I’m sort of glad that I’m not a member of the Plumlee family. Take Miles Plumlee, for instance. Two years ago he was a freshman starter at the beginning of the year for Duke. Now he’s getting minutes off the bench while his brother shines. And his younger brother Marshall arrives on campus next year. It’s quite possible that Miles could end up as the least successful of the three brothers. And when you’re still the low-man in your family after playing four solid seasons at Duke, that’s just too high a standard to live up to. I mean, I’m arguably the lesser sibling in my family, but at least my brother slips up here and there in an attempt to make me feel better about myself.

8) It’s completely unrelated to last night’s game or even basketball in general, but as a lifelong resident of the state of Wisconsin, I feel that I must note that it is a particularly joyful experience to see an ESPN news crawl detailing the complete implosion this year of Brett Favre’s Minnesota Vikings. It’s one of the few things that can get me to look away from the game.

9) Perhaps it was just the television that I was watching, or the fact that he wasn’t wearing one of his more ridiculous shirt and tie combinations (of which there have been many) last night, but I could swear that Buzz Williams has lost some weight. Perhaps his running habit is finally paying off.

10) I ultimately give lots of credit to Marquette for not folding against Duke. For the first five minutes of the game, Duke played the best basketball that I’ve seen out of anyone so far this year. It would have been easy to wilt after seeing Mason Plumlee receive perfect lob passes down low, or Kyle Singler finishing reverse layups on the fastbreak, particularly given the intimidating aura of Duke. But the Golden Eagles, either too stubborn or too dumb to be intimidated, just kept fighting back. It’s one of the things that I love about Marquette teams under Buzz Williams–they’re always tough and tend to play as if their season is on the line in every game. You can’t help but have fun watching a game like that.

So, it was really a good night for everyone watching the Duke-Marquette game. Duke fans are happy with the win, and Marquette fans are happy to have exceeded early expectations (as I said before and still believe, I think Marquette fairs better if this game gets replayed in March). As for tonight’s action, I have to believe that Marquette will be primed to take down Gonzaga to return from their tournament with one win. Look for a big Golden Eagle victory tonight as the prelude to a war between Duke and Kansas State. I’ll be doing my best to fit both into my night.


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