Welcome back to the Marquette Courtside Millennium Bracket. First off, if you missed the last blog, you might want to go back and reread that one. Otherwise, though, here’s where the bracket stands after the crazy finish in the last matchup. Onto our next one:
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)
About 2009: Oh, what might have been. In Dominic James’, Wes Matthews’ and Jerel McNeal’s senior year, fans thought the team had a Final Four sheen. But, in a huge late-season home game against No. 2 UConn, James broke his foot and things went downhill. Though James did return for the NCAA tournament, MU entered the bracket losers of five of its last six. They scraped past Utah State in the first round before losing to Missouri. No. 1 song: Right Round, Flo Rida ft. Ke$ha.
About 2017: A huge home win over No. 1 Villanova still stands as the high-water mark of Steve Wojciechowski’s head coaching career thus far. A better representation of this team’s inconsistency, though, is four of five losses following that win. MU made the tournament, but an unlucky draw gave them South Carolina in their home state. The Gamecocks surprised many with a run to the Final Four; Marquette didn’t offer much resistance on that path. No. 1 song: Shape of You, Ed Sheeran.
Pre-Matchup: Wojo was asked for his thoughts on what fans began calling “The Matt Heldt Miracle” in the 3/14 series. “I went to Duke, where they have a spectacular medical school … I don’t know what kind of hallucinogenic drugs they gave the guys that put together that simulation, but if they put the same kind of effort into the drugs they’re working on at DukeMed, every disease will be cured in no time.” He added Heldt’s “ … a good kid … a great teammate … and I’m very happy for virtual Matt. But I hope it doesn’t come down to that for us, because I don’t see that happening again in a thousand years.”
Game #1: You know who we haven’t mentioned much in this bracket yet? Markus Howard. Two big threes in the first half, one to start the scoring and another kicking off an 8-2 half-ending and tiebreaking run, do wonders to relax his teammates. Five different 17ers hit at least two threes. The Three Amigos and Lazar Hayward all reach double-figures, but their bench falters. Modern analytics tell you to shoot the three. This game proves them right. 2017 Wojciechowski/Howard 86, 2009 Williams/McNeal 78.
Game #2: Rather than trying to stop the 2017 team in Game 2, the 2009 team decides to just outscore them, taking a 54-50 lead into a halftime the fans need to catch their breath. They can’t pull away in regulation, though. Up four with 45 seconds left, they fall victim to a Howard three at the shot-clock horn and a Luke Fischer basket at the buzzer to force overtime. Still, the ’09 squad’s experience shines through, as a 7-0 run breaks a 98-98 OT tie and balances the series at a game apiece. Six of Wojo’s guys reach double-figures, but four of Williams’ score 20 while Hayward leads all scorers with 33. 2009 Williams/McNeal 111, 2017 Wojciechowski/Howard 102, overtime.
Game #3: Chalk up another one for Wojo. Fischer starts the second half with two thunderous dunks as Dwight Burke, Patrick Hazel and even a young Jimmy Butler can’t keep Luke from a double-double. Toss in a couple Howard second-half threes and Williams’ group looks more like its late-season self than the team it was before UConn. James is held to eight points. Andrew Rowsey, who went 1-for-6 in the first game, hits four threes and leads the ’17 squad with 19 points. 2017 Wojciechowski/Howard 80, 2009 Williams/McNeal 71. (Box scores & game play-by-plays here)
Post-Matchup: The local media settles on Fischer as MVP. Williams is asked why his teams are 0-for-3 in the first round. “Do I look, sound or act like a guy who’s good with computers? I mean, I still write everything down with paper and a pen or pencil or maybe crayon. I think the machines are taking revenge.”
Virtual Buzz gets to take a break and regroup during the next matchup, which we’ll only preview here.
Round of 16 Matchup #4
#6 2008 Marquette (Tom Crean, 25-10, 11-7/T-5th of 16 BIG EAST, Jerel McNeal 14.9 ppg) vs. #11 2019 Marquette (Steve Wojciechowski, 24-10, 12-6/2nd of 10 BIG EAST, Markus Howard 25 ppg)
About 2008: There were thoughts this might be the final year for the Three Amigos of James, McNeal and Matthews; discussion of James going pro swirled. However, the one to leave MU after an OT loss to Stanford and Brook & Robin Lopez in the NCAA round of 32 was Tom Crean. James, perhaps mistakenly, revealed at the team banquet he was staying for his senior year, hoping to win a title with a group ranked as high as No. 10 when he was a junior. No. 1 song: Love In This Club, Usher ft. Young Jeezy.
About 2019: One year later, Marquette fans are still wondering why the year of Sam and Joey Hauser fell apart. All MU had to do to get a share of the BIG EAST regular-season title was win one of its last four conference games. It failed to do so. MU still made the tournament, only to propel Ja Morant into stardom as Murray State pasted Marquette in the first round. Adding insult to (hip) injury, the Hausers then entered the transfer portal right after the season. No. 1 song: 7 Rings, Ariana Grande.
Pre-Matchup: Crean is asked about the Hauser brothers before the matchup, which prompts him to spend six minutes praising them, their family, Stevens Point Area High School, Wisconsin high school basketball in general, the WIAA, the Point Brewery and a small restaurant in Waupaca he once ate at on a recruiting trip. Then asked if he learned anything about playing pairs of brothers from Stanford and the Lopezes, Crean takes one second to say, “That’s behind us,” and immediately leaves the podium.
I don’t think we’re going to squish the summary of Game 1 in here, so we’ll save it for the next blog.
A PERSONAL FAVOR: If you like Marquette Courtside, I’m going to ask you for a favor to help keep it going, namely helping to keep me going and helping me avoid unnecessary exposure to COVID-19.
You may know Wisconsin is considering childcare workers “essential” and allowing childcare centers to stay open, despite closing schools. My wife is a worker at a center that’s already had the parent of a child become a confirmed case. The center won’t cut her hours to a level that allows her to get unemployment, much less shut down, but is mostly servicing children of non-essential worker parents and basically just exposing my wife, and subsequently me, to kids who may be carriers.
If you like having me alive, please consider adding your name this petition to get the childcare centers to follow the lead of schools and close down. It’ll make Courtside easier for me to write because it will make my wife less afraid she or I will catch “it” and become one of “those” cases. Most of you out there are finding a way to take care of your kids. There’s no sense in not making it everyone. Thanks much.
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