Welcome back to Marquette Courtside and our “pass the time in quarantine” Millennium Bracket, where we’re trying to determine the best Marquette team of the past 20 years with help from WhatIfSports.com. If you missed the concept, here’s the first blog, here’s the bracket and here are the first and second blog to round out the First Four and get the Round of 16 started. Speaking of which …
Round of 16 Matchup #2
#3 2012 Marquette (Buzz Williams, 27-8, 14-4/2nd of 16 BIG EAST, Darius Johnson-Odom 18.3 ppg) vs. #14 2018 Marquette (Steve Wojciechowski, 21-14, 9-9/T-6th of 10 BIG EAST, Andrew Rowsey 20.5 ppg)
Pre-Matchup: Steve Wojciechowski, predictably, suggests moving the games to the Al McGuire Center, given his team’s NIT success there and “questions about the Bradley Center’s availability in 2018.” When asked by Michael Hunt whether he’ll agree, Buzz Williams tells a 10-minute story about falling asleep in his office at The Al after a late-night film study session, only to be awakened by a student manager when he was 30-minutes late for morning practice. At the end of the story, Hunt asks the same question, as Williams hadn’t actually answered it. “Oh — hell no. [laughter] We’re filling the Bradley Center.”
Game #1: The streakiness of the 2018 team rears its ugly head in the second half of the series opener. A 12-3 run near the end of the first half gives Wojo’s squad reason to think upset, leading 44-34. But the 18ers go nearly eight minutes without scoring after halftime. Sam Hauser loses confidence early and scores just two points, making Andrew Rowsey and Markus Howard force shots. The ’18 team hits just 4-of-18 threes and scores just 17 second-half points. Still, down just one with less than a minute left, they can’t get a key rebound that allows Darius Johnson-Odom to make a runner off a nice dish from Juan Toscano-Anderson. A panicky Greg Elliott then inexplicably takes a 15-footer with :08 left that’s also collected by the ’18 team. A gritty win for Williams’ team is a frustrating loss for Wojciechowski’s. 2012 Williams/Johnson-Odom 66, 2018 Wojciechowski/Rowsey 61.
Game #2: Facing elimination, Wojo draws up offenses to spring Hauser and Howard. Not only does it work, Hauser’s renewed confidence pays off in the clutch. Tied at 76 with under a minute left, Elliott finds Hauser for a huge three to give the ’18 team the lead. After Johnson-Odom misses a similar shot to his late-game runner in the opener, Rowsey sneaks in for the board. Theo John is open under the basket at the other end after Rowsey runs some clock. He misses a bunny, but the 2012 team can’t get the ball. A Houser tip won’t fall, but John tips that rebound to Howard and Johnson-Odom has no choice but to foul. Howard makes two free-throws, giving 2018 a five-point lead. A final Jae Crowder three makes it interesting, but the 12ers can’t foul Sacar Anim fast enough to make a desperation tying try realistic. We need a third game. 2018 Wojciechowski/Rowsey 82, 2012 Williams/Johnson-Odom 79.
[Editor’s note before Game #3: I kid you not … what happens in Game #3 is, unaltered, what WhatIfSports’s simulation spit out. Look for yourself; click on the “Game 3 PBP” tab at the bottom of this Google Sheet and scroll to the bottom. While yes, the story I created below is from my own imagination, I did not alter the simulation results one bit. You wouldn’t believe this if I didn’t preface it as such.]
Game #3: It’s going to be hard to beat this one for most memorable game of the Millennium Bracket.
The 2012 team leads most of the first half, the 2018 team goes up 10 on a Crowder three with 7:25 left, and an Anim jumper ties the game at 69 with 1:44 remaining. Williams calls a timeout after that, excoriating his team. “You’re better than them,” he shouts. “Finish this.”
With help from a Howard miss, 2012 scores the next four points to take a 73-69 lead. They make a mistake, however, leaving Matt Heldt alone with the ball in the high post with under 20 seconds left. He takes one dribble and hits an easy layup. At the other end, Crowder gets the lead back to four at 75-71 with 12.8 on the clock. Rowsey takes the inbound, dribbles up and hits a pull-up three with 7.7 remaining, making it a one-point game as Wojciechowski takes his team’s final timeout. Nifty screens on the inbound allow Vander Blue to get away without being fouled until there’s 3.6 seconds on the clock.
Blue hits the first bonus free throw. The second, however, rims out. Jamil Wilson gets a finger on the rebound, but can only tip it up in the air. Matt Heldt stumbles in the scrap, but has the ball fall into his hands as he recovers his balance. Knowing there might not even be time for a pass, he takes a step toward the free-throw line and heaves the ball toward the opposite basket with both hands. As the red lights around the backboard light up, they’re rattled by a basketball going off glass … and in.
Referee Jim Burr is nearly run over by Marquette superfan Roosevelt “Freeway” McCarter and Heldt superfan Eric Gebhardt as the duo leads a rush of stunned Class of 2018 students, some seen crying tears of disbelieving joy, storming the court while Burr confirms the replay. Williams says something to Wojo that makes him laugh heartily after they fight the crowd to shake hands. Williams turns around after the handshake, emphatically shrugs, then is nearly run over himself by students parading Heldt around on their shoulders. 2018 Wojciechowski/Rowsey 77, 2012 Williams/Johnson-Odom 76.
Post-Matchup: The scene on the floor after the game rivals that of Marquette’s clinching the Conference USA championship in 2003 and beating Villanova in 2017. Media members rip up their MVP ballots just before the press conferences start, look at each other and just say, “Heldt.” Williams, Wojciechowski, Heldt, Rowsey, Williams and Crowder all start their time at the podium with the exact same phrase: “I still don’t believe it.” Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett and Neenah, Wis. mayor Dean Kaufert each declare the following day “Matt Heldt Day” in their respective cities. Madness indeed.
With all that excitement, we’re not even going to touch our next matchup beyond telling you who’s in it:
Round of 16 Matchup #3
#5 2009 Marquette (Buzz Williams, 25-10, 12-6/5th of 16 BIG EAST, Jerel McNeal 19.8 ppg) vs. #12 2017 Marquette (Steve Wojciechowski, 19-13, 10-8/T-3rd of 10 BIG EAST, Markus Howard 13.2 ppg)
More on that one in the next blog.
THIS IS FUN, NO? I mean, how can you not enjoy this? You should have seen my eyes light up when I saw the sim results — first the one-point game, then the stunning way it ended. I had to re-read it a few times myself just to make sure it was right. It seems so implausible, it was a challenge to write. But hey, the more outrageous, the better, right? That’s why we love college basketball, even when simulated.
That said, our “brightness in the bleakness” will be this video of the court-storming in 2017, along with this video and this video. There will be days again when we can gather in crowds and storm courts. Not now, but eventually. Hang on tight and be healthy so you can be there when this happens again.
Photo: Getty Images