It’s rare that I out-and-out disagree with the fine folks over at Anonymous Eagle, whom I love because they cover non-revenue sports and occasionally re-tweet and share my material. But when they tried to claim you’ve only seen “collapses” out of this year’s and last year’s Marquette teams under Steve Wojciechowski, I feel like they missed the mark.
Speaking about two years ago, they said, “ … wins in five of the final seven games is definitely not a collapse.” Sorry, but I was at Wintrust Arena for the loss against DePaul that was one of the two losses. It was a crushing, near end-of-season defeat, at the hands of a Blue Demons team yet to win a conference home game, in front of a decidedly pro-Marquette crowd. The way Marquette, notably Andrew Rowsey, sleepwalked through that game was enough to cancel out the win streak. It was a memorably silly and painful loss. Marquette deserved to fall short of the NCAA tournament for that day alone. It was only a single game, but it was a collapse unto itself.
Also, while 2017 saw Marquette make the tournament, it didn’t exactly mount much of a fight against South Carolina (unlike in 1972). I’m not going to deny Marquette’s had some bad tournament luck under Wojo. MU faced the Gamecocks in a de facto home game for “the other USC” when they were on their way to the Final Four, then rand into a then lesser-known player we now know was already an NBA star-worthy talent in Ja Morant last year. But Marquette also hasn’t looked nearly up to the task the two times it’s been dancing under Wojciechowski, and when you give fans a “we aren’t competitive with the other team on the floor” final impression, on the most visible stage, they’ll feel let down.
The fact of the matter is, Marquette has somehow broke fans’ hearts each year of the Markus Howard era, and not in the “Well, we were close to the Final Four but it just slipped through our fingers” way, but Instead, it’s been in the, “We feel like we’re capable of much better than this” way. Marquette fans are getting used to seeing their team win games against the likes of 2017’s top-ranked Villanova squad, the 12 Quadrant 1 and 2 opponents this year’s team’s beaten, then still seeing them keel over and die against the likes of DePaul and St. John’s. Yes, it’s somewhat reflective of how clownshoes college basketball generally has become, but it’s also understandably maddening for a basketball-crazed fanbase staring down nearly two decades away from the Final Four.
Eagle’s piece came out before this week’s second inexplicable loss at DePaul in three years. There’s degrees of fading, too, and late-season losses to DePaul feel especially sinful to fans who have abbreviated “don’t lose to DePaul” into a #DLTD hashtag. Also consider, in the two road games most easily attended by Marquette fans this year, DePaul and Butler in Indianapolis, MU suffered embarrassing defeats. The Butler game, unforgettably, is the one where Wojciechowski forgot the score and ordered a foul in a tie game that nearly handed the Bulldogs a victory they eventually got anyway.
I guarantee there’s at least a handful of Milwaukee or Chicago-living Marquette fans who were in the building for both the Butler and DePaul road losses. This 2009 BBC article says self-flagellation is only practiced by “ … a very small minority of Catholics.” Marquette fans don’t have to engage in the ritual; they take a bad enough beating watching their favorite basketball team.
It’s generally accepted Marquette will probably be in the NCAA tournament this year due to how weak the field is and the strong perception many have of the BIG EAST. But even with that, many Marquette fans are already writing off the season, and will continue to maintain a degree of discontent unless Marquette makes a run in the BIG EAST Tournament or pulls off an NCAA win. However, with Saturday’s game at St. John’s considered a risky proposition due to the Red Storm having little to lose, and with the proceedings at Madison Square Garden feeling like a crapshoot for a team that will either be at or below .500 in conference play coming in, it’s fair to say Wojciechowski hasn’t left himself wiggle room for what he needs to do to produce a fan base that will be happy to have him back next year.
And yet, there’s still a feeling he will be back. Some credit an outstanding recruiting class supposedly coming next year. Some credit a squeaky clean program without a hint of any behind-the-scenes issues, beyond the list of players who have transferred away, including the NBA’s Deonte Burton. Some merely look at the economic realities of what it would cost to buy out his contract. Heck, the administration may even be overlooking fan feelings because, to be honest, Marquette fans tend to overreact to everything, dating all the way back to the Al McGuire days. It’s interesting when you hear pundits say Wojciechowski is “a Marquette guy.” I feel like it’s more apt to say he’s a Marquette administration kind of guy. Remember, we’re talking about a fanbase that doesn’t even agree with its leadership on the team’s nickname. The administration prefers to be politically correct, and in Wojo, it has a leader who will never stray from saying the correct, measured, what-should-be-said thing every time. But the fans still worship McGuire, who won while racking up technicals and being anything but outspoken. It’s an odd disconnect, but it’s almost baked into Marquette’s culture at this point.
On the topic of practical solutions for the present, the turnaround answer is easy to pinpoint: Someone, other than Howard, must produce again. It’s almost as if teams have said, “Let Howard get his 30; stop everyone else.” Sacar Anim and Koby McEwen have disappeared of late, and Jayce Johnson has given every indication he could and maybe should be in the starting lineup, yet he still comes off the bench in lieu of Theo John. But saying another threat is what MU needs, and one of those guys becoming, or returning to be, one, is easier said than done. This is why Wojo is paid the big salary. Marquette fans are depending on him to do better than he did with the score at Butler and figure it out.
Patience isn’t wearing thin anymore. It’s threadbare. At this point, the only thing that will fix this year’s damage is a BIG EAST championship or a win in March Madness, and neither feels like the most likely result of current trends. Marquette, and Wojo, are in a bad place of their own creation — again. And they’ve been there too often the last four years.
I BLOG LIKE THE TEAM PLAYS: I hope you haven’t been setting your clock to Marquette Courtside, as this year’s been one of our least consistent when it comes to producing blogs. When I haven’t been sick, preparing for lacrosse, or doing PA for MATC’s currently top-ranked in NJCAA D2 basketball team or even New Berlin West’s high school teams, I’ve been putting Courtside together. That’s added up to, on average, I think once every three weeks. That’s not what I want it to be, but it’s what it is. Nonetheless, thanks for following along and reading when I do get around to posting something. I do what I can.
TOURNEY TO COME: Marquette/St. John’s Saturday, then more New York for Marquette next week with the BIG EAST Tournament. Something’s gotta change for things to get better. It can’t get much worse.
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