Marquette’s Adolescence~~by Dan Pfeifer

Marquette’s Adolescence
With Marquette, we see the good, bad and ugly

In a Marquette Courtside from about a month ago, we focused on how important maturity is to Steve Wojciechowski. When his team plays smart, Wojciechowski often lauds its maturity.

Marquette went to Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse Monday, one of the most intimidating environments in college basketball and a place where the Bulldogs previously dominated top-ranked Villanova, and took an 18-point lead with 19:17 left in the game. Then, off came the wheels. Butler first erased MU’s advantage over the next 11 minutes, then ended up winning by eight. The huge disparity between the first and second-half stats for both teams is both obvious and eye-popping.

It was the third time this year Marquette surrendered a lead of 10 or more points, having also done so against Pitt and at Seton Hall. I wasn’t at those last two games, but I was at the Fresno State game Dec. 6, where a 20-point Marquette margin shrunk to two before MU held on for a three-point win. Wojciechowski talked a lot about maturity that night, too, specifically how his team needed more of it.

Last week, we mused about the nature of Marquette’s rebuilding process under Wojo, specifically its tempo. Growth has been ever-present, but slow and inconsistent.

Marquette has been dominant for stretches. It’s tempting to say MU played its best basketball of the year in the first half against Butler, but that would be ignoring a lot of other great play, ranging from the Vanderbilt demolition to a 12 three-pointer first half versus DePaul. What’s maddening, though, is how great play can be followed by dreadful sequences, sometimes within the same game. Basketball is a game of runs, but the stretches of good or bad play Marquette goes on can last entire halves. The rollercoaster was a common theme last year; it’s been more extreme this season.

In contrast, consider Georgetown and DePaul, who currently, and deservedly, sit at the bottom of the BIG EAST standings. Marquette has already played, and beaten, both, and in those games, there weren’t many signs either team was getting off the canvas after MU threw some early haymakers. In other games, both the Hoyas and Blue Demons have looked outclassed by their opponents. Marquette routinely shows you it’s capable of being much better than any team on the floor — then isn’t.

However, to reiterate a point from last week, there is no doubt Marquette has a better team than last year, which was a better than the year before. We didn’t see MU dominance before this year.

At its present stage of development, we’re seeing both how great Marquette can be and how bad it has been. The result is a pubescent phase with both “grown-up, good Marquette” and “can’t hold a lead, bad Marquette.” Much like a moody pre-teen, either good Marquette or bad Marquette can show up at any time, pending hormones, the direction of the wind or whatever. In contrast, mature teams do what’s needed to win. They find an extra gear when needed. Butler showed one Monday.

As truly painful as these woulda-shoulda-coulda losses have been, they may just be the zits and ill-fitting pants on a thing that will eventually grow to be something tremendous. It’s not easy, but fans have to hope it’s just a phase and, if the progress continues, Marquette will grow out of it.

COURTSIDE SPLINTERS

TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS: It’s a lot easier to cover a winning team than a losing one. There are obvious reasons for this, but among them is the fact there are fewer questions, and far less of a demand for answers, when everything’s going smoothly.

When I go to post-game press conferences, I sometimes record audio directly into my computer. Other times, I use a spare recorder and keep my computer in my lap to live-tweet. I chose to do that Monday, not even really thinking about fans eagerly looking to hear Wojciechowski’s explanations for the loss.

When you’re live-tweeting, speed is important, as is brevity. But in attempting to achieve both, you start to wonder if you’re correctly interpreting statements. At one point Monday, Wojciechowski said, when Marquette struggles, “our answer is always ‘call my play and I’ll bail us out with a basket.’” In tweeting that, I said Wojo saw that as his way of answering adversity, which could imply he wants his players to call his, Wojo’s, play. But in listening back to the quote, I realize he may have been citing his players’ way of answering adversity, in that they want the ball in those moments. It’s a small, subtle difference, but it pins more of the responsibility on Wojo than he was perhaps claiming.

As the press conference wrapped, I saw my Twitter notifications pick up speed. Knowing that one word might do a lot to shape people’s perceptions of Wojciechowski, in a time when Marquette fans are somewhat on edge about the program, gave me a bit of a chill, and that doesn’t even get into Wojo saying Luke Fischer isn’t playing well, ending the statement with “it’s a mystery” as to why.

I decided later to tweet out the full audio to let fans decipher Wojo’s answers for themselves, but who knows how much that got through. Honestly, both readings of the adversity answer could be valid, but in the moment, I picked the one that struck me, which might have impacted the dialog.

I have delineated before between “journalist Dan,” who covers Marquette as a neutral reporter, and “fan Dan,” who has rooted for Marquette basketball his whole life. At this point, given the stress such moments put on journalist Dan, both of my schizophrenic sides are hoping MU can get some wins.

HINKLE MAGIC & HOOSIERS HISTORY: Allow me to say, again, that Hinkle Fieldhouse is a must-visit for any basketball fan. I took a bunch of pictures on this visit, and if you’d like to see them, do click this link.

One of many reasons Hinkle has its aura is because it was very much on display in one of the best sports movies of all time, Hoosiers. The team depicted in that film, the Hickory Huskers, is fictional, though based on a real story. Not fictional, however, is the “home gym” for the Huskers, and the gym, located in a town about 45 minutes east of Indianapolis, has now been renovated and lovingly preserved as a place fans can not only visit but even shoot some hoops at on the right day. Additionally, The Hoosier Gym, as it’s now called, hosts an annual high school all-star game and a variety of special events.

As a devoted fan of the film, I finally got to make the trip after Monday’s game and took a bunch of photos there as well. The level of maintenance is truly remarkable, as the facility is in spectacular condition. Please do visit their website, follow their social media pages, and consider purchasing something from their online gift shop to help preserve a great piece of history.

BACK AND FORTH: Conference travel has not been kind to Marquette, as it’s lost all three of its road games, including two it probably could and should have won. They’ll try again against Creighton on Fox Saturday afternoon, then will try to put its best foot forward against Villanova at home Tuesday.

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