Thursday, December 30, 2010

Marquette vs. Vanderbilt: Not Quite There Yet

After a hectic couple of nights (I only barely saw the Wisconsin-Minnesota game, a contest that I had circled on the calendar weeks ago), I finally got the chance to relax in my living room (well, after I took down the Christmas tree) and watch some basketball last night. Marquette and Vanderbilt looked to be a fun one. I’ve been waiting for Marquette to get a big non-conference win, and I have a bit of a distaste for Vanderbilt, so I was looking for the Golden Eagles to lay a major beat down on the Commodores. Unfortunately, that was not to be, with Vanderbilt pulling out a squeaker at the end. But it was nonetheless an entertaining game to watch, with perhaps as many dunks as in any game I’ve seen this year. Game thoughts below:

1) About five minutes into the game, Jae Crowder gave me one of those amusing moments that happens every so often where I think to myself “I didn’t know he could shoot from three-point range” as a guy’s launching a shot. And then .5 seconds later as the ball is missing the rim entirely, I realize why I was surprised to see that particular player shooting.

2) Great to see Joe Fulce on the floor, after questioning just a few weeks ago whether he would ever play basketball again.

3) I’m always perplexed when I see games at Vanderbilt. Who thought that floor would be a good idea? I kind of understand the concept of the raised floor, but I’m at a loss trying to figure out why anyone would think it a good idea to put the benches on the baselines. Given that virtually every other basketball facility has sideline benches and that set up tends to work remarkably well, wouldn’t it seem logical to set up your own facility in this way? I’m all for creativity, but sometimes you just need to conform.

4) Dear ESPN: If in any way true, that was a nice tidbit that your commentators dropped in about Chris Otule wearing goggles because he only has one eye. But as great a factoid as that is, I’d ask that you not share it with Dick Vitale before he calls any Marquette games. The world doesn’t need any more excuses for Vitale to make his old “I only have one eye!” joke.

5) Vander Blue may not start for Marquette, but is there anyone out there that doesn’t think he’s one of the top five players on the roster? He’s come along much quicker than I expected.

6) It was a subtle moment, but there was a great shot in the second half of Buzz Williams on the baseline, where the benches are at Vanderbilt, shouting out a complaint to the referees. In the frame as Williams was yelling were one male and one female Vanderbilt fan, each of whom looked to be about student age. Both fans were calmly sitting in their front-row seats until Williams began his complaint. The look on the face of the male fan quickly shifted to one of anger, as if he was ready to confront Williams about punching one of his family members, or something else way more serious than a traveling call or three-second violation. I can’t do it justice writing about it, and it probably makes no sense if you didn’t see it. But if you happened to catch it while you were watching the game, you probably understand the understated brilliance of this moment.

7) Okay, I’ll admit it–Chris Otule is starting to look like a serviceable player. I still don’t think he has a high ceiling, and I will never think of him as the solid big man that Marquette could really use, but he’s developed some moves and is not totally embarrassing when he’s on the court. And that’s not something that I could have said about him when he was a freshman.

8) There were times last night when I was completely embarrassed to watch Marquette’s defense. There was one notable moment early in the second half when one of Vanderbilt’s guards took the ball 3/4 of the way down the court and three Marquette defenders in the lane just watched helplessly as he slipped by them to effortlessly lay the ball in. I’ve rarely seen such a poor effort on one play from high school players, let alone a trio of decent college players. And then there was the more glaring last possession for Vanderbilt, when the Commodores patience led them to break Marquette down for an fairly easy layup. I’m not sure if the Golden Eagles don’t know what they’re doing or if they’ve gotten tired of the consistent effort that they’ve always given and just aren’t trying all the time. Either way, it was upsetting to see the lapses last night.

9) Watching Marquette not even get a shot off on their final possession really took me back to the Tom Crean days at MU. The only difference being, of course, that if Crean was still at Marquette, this failure would not have been due to a player tripping. Someone would have just dribbled out the clock while over-thinking things.

10) I can’t recall too many non-conference seasons more frustrating than the one that Marquette just completed. The Golden Eagles played four games against big-time opponents and lost all four. Yet none of the losses were by more than five points, and one of them was an excellent effort against Duke, the best team in the country. At some point you’d have to suspect that Marquette will get over the hump and hold on to beat some excellent opponents in Big East play. After all, this is a talented team. But a good team needs to win games, and even though a shift in 14 points in all the right places would drastically alter the season to date, the fact still remains that Marquette has not yet won a game against a name opponent.

So all in all, not the best of nights for Marquette. I still think this team has a few Big East upsets in them. Let’s hope they get a big win soon, though, because it’s tough as a fan to stay patient through all of the near misses.


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