… it’s one game.
Believe me, as a baseball fan, I fully understand complete and total overreaction to a quote-unquote “season opener.” Every year, I see Brewers fans making long-term personnel judgments based on what happens on an April afternoon before most guys have even gotten into a rhythm. It is the unceasing nature of fandom to jump to conclusions.
That said … it’s one game.
Marquette did not look good against Creighton on New Year’s Day. If you watched any part of the game, was plain. The Bluejays were a full step faster. They took Markus Howard out of long stretches of the game. They took Theo John out of the game, as was very well outlined by the experts at Paint Touches yesterday. If the plan was to go smaller to deal with Creighton’s speed, that plan somehow got largely abandoned as two of Marquette’s better defenders at the guard position, Greg Elliott and Jamal Cain, didn’t see much time in the second half before the game was decided. It was the kind of game that made emotions on Twitter range from anger to depression to annoyance with the anger and depression. You’d think fans had a call go against them in the Rose Bowl or something.
But it was one game. The first game, as that last tweet said so well, in an 18-game conference season for a BIG EAST conference that has at least eight teams seriously thinking the NCAA tournament is possible.
Another of those tweets above referenced last year’s St. John’s BIG EAST-opening road loss for Marquette, which similarly came on New Year’s Day and saw MU also get its new year’s party hats collectively handed to it on a trip to the edges of the conference’s geography. Our Marquette Courtside blog after that game last year tried to downplay it, which turned out to be the right call, at least for a month, as it would be the only game Marquette would lose in January 2019 before the Red Storm snapped an MU eight-game win streak in their return visit to Milwaukee Feb. 5.
In lieu of not simply copy-pasting that blog from last year: While a certain degree of high-level anxiety is called for, let’s keep the low-level panic about what happened in Omaha to a soft volume. One game should not panic make, particularly when the Bluejays had a great game plan that played to their strengths and focused on silencing Howard after he and the now-gone Sam Hauser found a way to pull the previous year’s Nebraska showdown out in overtime.
As for that high-level anxiety, there should be some. Anonymous Eagle echoed others on Twitter in pointing out that when Marquette loses, they tend to lose big. While this doesn’t strike me as a major problem — if anything, it shows that Howard, et al., have the ability to pull out close games in the clutch when needed and don’t waste energy trying to turn a 25-point loss into something more reasonable for mere NET-ranking purposes — it isn’t the most pleasant trend, either.
We have made the point here at Courtside to say Steve Wojciechowskishouldn’t be feeling real comfortable. A night where he appeared to clearly get outcoached by Greg McDermott, never mind his team getting outplayed by Creighton, can’t make his seat any cooler, not to mention his teams haven’t seemed to learn what it takes to win, or even really compete, in a BIG EAST road opener.
But, again, it’s one game. Creighton came in 11-2 and their backcourt was being touted by a number of national pundits in the run-up to Wednesay. McDermott hasn’t moved to better, bigger Division I jobs since 2000, or held on at basketball-mad Creighton since 2013, by not knowing what he’s doing. As was mentioned in the Paint Touches piece, John has an injured hand and Koby McEwen was returning from a thumb injury. MU not only hit Creighton on the wrong night, they’re banged up to boot.
Ultimately, when I see a range of emotions among fans, I see it as a bell curve, knowing the average of everyone’s feelings should probably be seen as where they belong. There were enough smart, not-panicky folks in the Twitterati Wednesday night for me to think the loss was bad for some of the high-level reasons, but probably worse when piled together with years past than it is in reality for this year.
The hard truth is there’s a good chance Marquette might also drop its game tomorrow against No. 10 Villanova. A home loss might cause more consternation, but a loss to the Wildcats is only problematic if Marquette continues to look flat = into a game against a Providence team that looks beatable. Still, 0-and-3, and even 0-and-6, could be possible for this team. If it comes to that, one has a feeling widespread panic will be deserved and won’t be limited to just the fans. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The games need to be played, kids aged 18 through 22 need to show they can learn and improve, and we have no choice but to watch it play out from a distance.
There’s no way Marquette fans will remove the high-level anxiety. What we’ve seen the past five years hasn’t built the trust in the program or its brass to do so. But for as many games as MU has had no chance, they’ve also had their fair share of exciting wins. It is maddening inconsistency, as we’ve lamented throughout the Wojo era. But, by now, you have to know that’s going to be there when you buy into following Marquette. It doesn’t look like it’s changing soon.
OH HEY, YOU WROTE A BLOG: Yeah, I’ve been bad about the blogging thing this season. Good about Twitter, bad about blogging. It’s entirely on me. I’m busy, but that’s no excuse. Hopefully we’ll be better in the BIG EAST season. Hopefully.
MAYBE THEY’LL PLAY SOME ROB THOMAS IN MY HONOR: I’m doing something I’m not sure how comfortable with I either am, or am not, and attending my first UWM game at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena since I was an undergrad at the north-side school back in 2005. A friend and loyal Panther fan (yes, there are a few) has been pestering me to go for some time and I ran out of excuses. Whereas I’m going as a mere fan and hanging out with friends, no, I will not be live-tweeting the game, but I have found my long-lost Panther jacket with the leather sleeves and will sport it in honor of the school silly enough to give me a degree. I may report back on the experience in next week’s blog. We’ll see.
OH BY THE WAY: The best basketball team in Milwaukee right now? It might be, of all places, at MATC. They play their games at Alverno, I’m occasionally their PA announcer, and they’re currently third in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II rankings. NJCAA schools only have college freshmen and sophomores, though it’s not unheard of for their guys to end up at bigger universities for their final two years. Head coach Randy Casey took his team to a fifth-place finish in last year’s NJCAA DII tourney, and has this year’s group looking like a national title contender as well. You might want to consider checking one of their games out in person. I already have, and will do so again Saturday while on the mic. Yes, that means I’ll miss the ‘Nova game. Fair warning.
Photo: Getty Images