Welcome back to our way to pass the time during our collective quarantine, the Marquette Courtside Millennium Bracket. As we do at the start of all these blogs, a refresher: We’re using the 18 available Marquette teams from 2000 onward at WhatIfSports. Each matchup is decided with a three-game series. We’re tied at 1-1 in the sixth first-round matchup, with the bracket in full here. We discussed it in the very first blog, and we’ll continue where we left off in the last blog with a deciding third game in …
Round of 16 Matchup #6
#7 2002 Marquette (Tom Crean, 26-7, 9-9/2nd of 7 Conference USA American, Dwyane Wade 17.8 ppg) vs. #10 2006 Marquette (Tom Crean, 20-11, 10-6/T-4th of 16 BIG EAST, Steve Novak 17.5 ppg)
Game #3: The oldest team remaining in the bracket moves on. A 16-1 run in the first half allowed the 2002 team to take control. They didn’t allow the 2006 group any closer than nine until Steve Novak scored the final points of the game with three seconds left. Oluoma Nnamaka actually led the way with 17 points and seven rebounds, while Cordell Henry scored 15 points, including the final four points in a 6-0 second-half run that felt like it puts the 06ers into desperation mode. The ’06 team squandered opportunities, missing 10 free throws, and couldn’t overcome Dwyane Wade’s defense, as he swiped four steals. 2002 Crean/Wade 86, 2002 Crean/Novak 80. (Box scores & game play-by-plays here)
Post-Matchup: Despite losing, you see a lot of smiles on the faces of the ’06 guys as they go through the handshake line. “We heard how good those guys were,” Jerel McNeal said. “It was just fun to experience playing them first-hand. I get the whole thing about D-Wade and how complete his game is now. They don’t know how good they’ll be yet, but we do in a couple different ways now.” There’s debate among the 2002 media throng as to whether Wade or Nnamaka should get MVP honors. “Pick Wade,” an overhearing Dan Needles from the 2006 group says, adding, “Trust me.” They agree.
We’re going to stay in this pod to see who the 2002 will get in the next round for our next matchup. This will be our first with a team that’s already played, as well as our first look at an Elite Eight team.
Round of 16 Matchup #7
#2 2013 Marquette (Buzz Williams, 26-9, 14-4/T-1st of 15 BIG EAST, Vander Blue 14.8 ppg) vs. #18 2015 Marquette (Steve Wojciechowski, 13-19, 4-14/T-9th of 10 BIG EAST, Matt Carlino 15.0)
About 2013: Buzz Willams’ best team. A team just one game from the Final Four. An unbeaten team at home. This was a very good team, with a pro-bound Vander Blue and a great deal of length and depth, led by Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson, to create matchup nightmares. It was also a team plagued by odd circumstances. A scheduled game on an aircraft carrier was cancelled due to court condensation, while another game against Providence was halted due to a bat flying around the Bradley Center. But when this team could focus, it was good. No. 1 song: Harlem Shake, Baauer.
2015: The 2015 team won one of two play-in matchups to get here, beating the 2000 squad in a two-game sweep (preview & Game #1, Game #2, boxes/play-by-plays). In the real world, this squad struggled with depth in Steve Wojciechowski’s first year. However, Matt Carlino brought his ‘A’ game against the 2000 team, and will need to be as hot as he was in that matchup to have a chance in this one.
Overlap: Despite just two years between these teams, they share just three players — Juan Toscano-Anderson, Steve Taylor and Derrick Wilson. Minor pieces in 2012-13, each was very needed in 2014-15.
Pre-Matchup: Wojciechowski had his usual platitudes for his opponent in his pre-matchup presser, though he did reference the bat incident. “I’ve told my guys that if [the 2013 guys are] the ‘bat men’, I want [my team] to be the Joker and the Riddler and whoever else is against Batman. At the very least, I want our guys to make the ‘bat men’ work as hard as they can. I mean, that’s a dark series, right? The bad guys win sometimes, right?” Stephanie Sutton says yes, to which Wojo replies, “Good.”
Game #1: Score one for the Jokers. A riveting opening-contest upset featured an exciting finish and enough great play from the 2015 team that some were left saying they might have the meddle to win the series. After leading most of the game, including by 10 at the half, the 15ers looked like they might give it away, falling victim to a game-tying 10-0 run and Luke Fischer fouling out in the final three minutes. A Jamil Wilson three with 8.8 seconds remaining leveled the score at 77. But who stepped up to be the hero for 2015? None other than silent assassin Sandy Cohen III.The freshman, unaware he’d make a bigger impact years later at Green Bay, showed what he could do for Marquette by burying a huge three with 1.3 seconds on the clock to give the 2015 team the lead. While a long inbound pass off a timeout got tipped to Blue, his at-the-horn three clanked off the rim and allowed the 2015 team to celebrate a huge victory. 2015 Wojciechowski/Carlino 80, 2013 Williams/Blue 77.
Game #2: Williams was still irate with his team before Game #2. “You’re going to let that rag-tag team of transfers and cast-offs push you around in the Bradley Center!?” he screamed, loud enough to be heard outside the locker room. “That’s not you! Dominate them!” The message appeared to get through at first, as the 13ers took a 22-10 lead early in the second game. But when the score was 28-25 in favor of the 2015 team seven minutes later, Williams took two timeouts within a minute to cycle in four new players and send a message, as lip-readers watching Williams’ face on the Time Warner Cable Sports 32 game broadcasts picked up on some not-so-Jesuit-approved language. That finally seemed to wake the 2013 team up, as it took command of the game early in the second half. The 15ers’ lack of depth finally appeared to become an issue as well. Without reinforcements, Duane Wilson, who was a red hot 8-for-11 in the first game, went just 3-of-13 in the second. The 2015 team’s 6-for-11 outside shooting in the opening contest also sunk to just 5-for-21. 2013 Williams/Blue 75, 2015 Wojciechowski/Carlino 61.
You know how this works by now. Could we give you Game #3 here? Yes. But do we want you to come back for another blog? Also yes. We do that by leaving you hanging. More next time.
ACTUAL NEWS: The real-life Wojciechowski, as opposed to the fictional versions from various years we’ve been discussing in our Millennium Bracket, has still been reasonably busy over the last few weeks, naming former Director of Basketball Operations Justin Gainey as his new associate head coach, while also shooting for a litany of transfers but landing … none, really. A couple big ones made decisions yesterday, but while Marquette was on the radar for Bowling Green’s Justin Turner and Wichita State’s Jamarius Burton, the former has decided to stay at Bowling Green while the latter is headed to Texas Tech. While this is newsworthy in a time where there’s not a ton of sports news, whether there even is a college basketball season in 2020-21 is still in doubt, so let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.
In the meantime: Have patience. Stay home. Flatten the curve. Avoid it for yourself & avoid spreading it.
Photo: Getty Images