Because man can only watch so much NASCAR iRacing, we continue on with our Marquette Courtside Millennium Bracket. Here’s where who’s still left. Here’s the blog that explained the concept. And here’s the last matchup, along with the preview of today’s, which features …
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)
Why waste time? Let’s get to the action.
Game #1: When Joey Hauser found Sam Hauser for a turnaround jumper a little over four minutes in to make it 9-8 in favor of Steve Wojciechowski’s team, it looked like we might have a game. Two and a half minutes later, after a 13-0 run for Tom Crean’s bunch, it didn’t look like it anymore. This one was over at halftime, as the ’08 squad sprinted out to a 49-28 lead and never looked back. The 2019 team was defenseless against Dominic James and Lazar Hayward, who went a combined 6-for-7 from outside and equaled each other with 21 points apiece. Everyone on the ’08 team contributed. Jerel McNeal scored 14 and had six assists. Wes Matthews let his hot teammates do the shooting while collecting nine rebounds. The first game is an easy win. 2008 Crean/McNeal 92, 2019 Wojciechowski/Howard 75.
Game #2: As hot as the 2008 team was in the opener, they never found a rhythm in the second game. McNeal, James, Matthews and Hayward went a combined 4-for-18 from outside, which means they couldn’t keep up with a hot Markus Howard in the first half, and the combined threat of the Hauser Brothers in the second. While the ’08 team led by 10 shortly after halftime, the 19ers fought their way back. With a precarious four-point advantage and 5:39 left, Howard made a jumper with James’ hand in his face, knocked a dribble away from McNeal on the ensuing possession, then combined with Joey Hauser and his brother, Sam, on bang-bang-bang passes for a bucket to continue a game-sealing 9-0 run. We got “bad 2019” for the first 60 minutes of this series. “Good 2019” showed up just in time to force Game #3. 2019 Wojciechowski/Howard 98, 2008 Crean/McNeal 89.
Game #3: The tone of the deciding game was set on the first and second possessions. In the first, Matthews hustled from the help side to knock a Theo John shot hard off the backboard. It ricocheted to Hayward, who hit McNeal with a pass near the half-court stripe. McNeal crossed over Sacar Anim, then threw a cross-court pass to James, who, in one motion and without looking, let the ball use his left arm like a slingshot to go back to Hayward at the wing for an open three that caught nothing but twine. The soft take for John began a soft performance for the 19ers, who never led and quickly fell into the habit of hoping Howard would save them, only to see him go just 4-for-12 beyond the arc. Three of Crean’s charges reached double-figures, but their defense turned heads, forcing 17 turnovers with 12 coming on steals. This series has so much garbage time that Cam Marotta saw 11 minutes of action across three games, the last seconds of which came as his team left the bracket with a whimper. 2008 Crean/McNeal 81, 2019 Wojciechowski/Howard 65. (Box scores & game play-by-plays here)
Post-Matchup: The media struggles to determine an MVP, but eventually settles on James. Crean lauds his players’ effort in the final game. “These guys, I mean, they work so hard. They fly all over the floor. They play with such intensity. I feel like I have to work harder and not give up on th— … ”
He fails to finish the thought as his phone’s ringtone, which sounds suspiciously like Jim Nabors’ voice, brings the press conference to a prompt halt. “I gotta take this,” Crean says as he leaves the podium.
We move on.
Round of 16 Matchup #5
#4 2011 Marquette (Buzz Williams, 22-15, 9-9/T-9th of 16 BIG EAST, Darius Johnson-Odom, 15.8 ppg) vs. #13 2020 Marquette (Steve Wojciechowski, 18-12, 8-10/T-6th of 10 BIG EAST, Markus Howard 27.8 ppg)
About 2011: Don’t let the 9-9 conference record and ninth-place finish fool you, as it came against a BIG EAST that sent an astounding 11 teams to the NCAA tournament. Marquette got the lowest seed of those schools, an 11, but proved it was worthy of selection when it upset BIG EAST brother Syracuse in the second round. Buzz Williams couldn’t follow in Al McGuire’s footsteps, though, in a Sweet-16 rematch of the 1977 national-title game against North Carolina. No. 1 song: Born This Way, Lady Gaga.
About 2020: While 2020 was a year of “what ifs” due to a global pandemic causing an unprecedented cancellation of the postseason, many think COVID-19 saved this team from a second-straight collapse, as it finished as losers of six of its last seven. Good nights saw Howard writing his name all over the record books as Marquette’s most-prolific scorer ever, if not one of the best in college hoops history. Bad nights made it feel like Howard was the only talent this team had. No. 1 song: The Box, Roddy Ricch.
Pre-Matchup: Koby McEwen, a transfer guard for the 2020 team, was initially excited to play in the neutral version of the Bradley Center that’s been the virtual host for these games. “I mean, D-Wade [Dwyane Wade], the other Kobe [Kobe Bryant], Ray Allen, the guys I grew up watching played here. I’m looking forward to it.” He changed his tune, however, after shootaround. “We dressed in the locker room that, I think, used to belong to that arena soccer team … the Wave? It was gray and dark and the carpet smelled. I don’t think it had been used in four years. I’ll take Fiserv [Forum] any day.”
Game #1: This was not pretty. Theo John and Jayce Johnson were no match for the athleticism of Jae Crowder and Jimmy Butler, who dominated the paint on their way to victory. The 2020 big men couldn’t even stop Chris Otule from collecting 11 rebounds as both John & Johnson got in foul trouble, resulting in the ’11 team doubling the ‘20 rebound total, 48-24. The 20ers were down eight at the first media timeout, 14 at the second and an insurmountable 24 at halftime. Darius Johnson-Odom led four 11ers in double-digits with 19 points. 2011 Williams/Johnson-Odom 85, 2020 Wojciechowski/Howard 57.
Through one game, this looks like a mismatch. However, Game #2 in the three-game series will have to wait until next week. Tune in then, kids.
NCAA UPDATE: The NCAA will give spring-sport student athletes a waiver for an extra year of eligibility, which sounds like good news until you remember a lot of spring-sport kids don’t get the same kind of scholarship support as basketball and football, meaning most who want to take advantage will probably have to pay for more school. This whole thing is going to mean interesting times for the economics of college sports in the next few years. With basically no tournament money from this year, paying student-athletes is probably out the window for a while. You just hope tough decisions aren’t going to have to be made down the line because of this. Hard to think they won’t be, though.
Not-fun stuff isn’t fun to think about. Let’s end there and get back to the fun next week.
Photo: Getty Images