Living On The Edge by Dan Pfeifer

Living On The Edge

All results still seem possible for Marquette

It seems tremendously fitting, with one regular season game left, that we’re just as clueless what the postseason promises for Marquette as we were whether or not it would play well on any given night. Marquette has been tremendously hard to figure out this year, resulting in their current bubble status of “nervous.”  

This week, another blown lead against Providence felt like a dark omen. It put Marquette in a position where it would have to travel to beat a hungry Xavier team, losers of five in a row, then come home and topple Creighton, to reach the magical 10-win, regular-season conference mark we long ago said would almost assure it a spot in the dance. But a dominant, 95-84 win over the Musketeers last night, in which Marquette demoralized a similarly desperate Xavier team, assures MU of at least a .500 BIG EAST mark and gives fans reason to think Marquette can finish the job against the Bluejays on Saturday.

If Marquette does top Creighton, those gold-clad fans can probably assume they’ll see their favorite team in the bracket for the first time since 2013. If not, a lot might break down to the BIG EAST Tournament and how the rest of the bubble teams nationally fare. Much has been made of this year’s weak bubble. A lot of questionable-at-best teams still seem tournament-worthy because there aren’t any better options.  One wants to say that helps Marquette, but really, they’re just another one of the questionable teams hoping to luck out. A loss to Creighton and a quick exit from Madison Square Garden could land MU in Dayton and the purgatorial “First Four.” Or, with enough crazy results in mid-major tournaments, a disappointing trip to the NIT could also still be possible. This is what you get with a team that’s been good enough to beat a likely regional top seed (Villanova), but bad enough to get embarrassed by the second-worst team in the league (St. John’s).

There are so many bracketologists now that there’s an aggregator site to keep track of them all. If this doesn’t look intimidating on first glance, you probably don’t have a very big screen and need to scroll right. Ultimately, though, the decision comes down to a bunch of folks in Indianapolis. RPI still plays a major role, but it’s just one of many factors. College basketball isn’t like the college football playoff. Nobody can watch every game. While analytics play a part, memorable moments do as well, such as a win so big, it caused court-storming and dancing on tables. You don’t know who’s watching when, though, which means you can also bet someone’s seen how often MU has blown double-digit leads — maybe at Butler, at Seton Hall or in either game against Providence, just to name a few. Marquette has proven it can be very, very good, but consistency is far from its forte.

Marquette does get to leave a final impression on its home floor Saturday. Relief from the too-common anxiety of this season is possible. A full-fledged tournament bid, avoiding Dayton, would reassert Marquette fans’ faith in Steve Wojciechowski, do much for the learning curve of returners like Markus Howard and Sam Hauser, and perhaps become a springboard to greater things in future years, even if this year’s appearance is brief. If Dayton ends up the destination, there will be a weird feeling Marquette belongs there after such a topsy-turvy year. A collapse in the final few games probably won’t sink Wojo, but will make many fans think next year might be a hot-seat season. That last result seems unlikely, but every turn in this Marquette season has been hard to foresee.

Anything might happen; yet nothing seems surprising. Such is life on the edge.

COURTSIDE SPLINTERS

ADMINISTRATIVE SLIP: The Marquette/Providence game at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center was an embarrassment, and not because Marquette couldn’t score a field goal in the final seven minutes while letting another lead go by the wayside. Theoretically, conditions should have helped Marquette to win — namely, the odd but not unprecedented scenario where there was a large amount of condensation on the court due to water evaporating up from the Providence Bruins’ AHL hockey ice. Both Providence and Marquette’s players had numerous instances where their feet gave out from underneath them on the damp track, though the Friars’ more drive-centric offense seemed to cause them to have issues at about three times more often than we noticed anything from MU.

The embarrassment lied in the decision to even go forward with playing the game on that surface. Marquette Wire’s Andrew Goldstein beat me to writing a thorough article on the matter, so I will reference you to that. But it’s worth noting that there are lots of precedents for delaying or calling games because of the exact same conditions. That’s not even bringing up Marquette’s own Carrier Classic game, cancelled due to humidity on the deck of the USS Yorktown in 2012.

All of those games were postponed in the name of player safety. A nasty slip can ruin a knee and end a player’s career or even damage his ability to use that limb for life. So what made Saturday’s game any different? The proximity to the end of the season, which would make scheduling a make-up date harrowing? Both teams’ battle for bracket position? Television? While all those things represent reasons to go forward and play, none of them made the floor any safer or the situation less risky.

The teams even played the game with modified rules, supposedly per an agreement by Wojciechowski and Providence coach Ed Cooley. Wojo hedged his feelings about the floor after the game, but that shouldn’t have been necessary because he & Cooley should have felt more strongly from the start. These kids – all of them, from both Marquette and Providence – have too much potential for bright futures to put them at such risk. It was a silly decision on the part of the coaches and officials to play the game, not to mention continuing to play after guys slipped. College sports do not need more examples of player well-being sacrificed for someone else’s gain, but they got one more with this.

All I can say in hindsight is, in similar circumstances, I hope the BIG EAST and even NCAA encourage all to be wiser with regards to erring on the side of caution in the future. Doing otherwise is careless.

NON-BASKETBALL SPLINTERS: The BIG EAST Women’s Basketball Tournament is coming to Milwaukee and the Al McGuire Center this weekend. The Marquette women’s team, led by Carolyn Kieger, finished the season 22-7, is the third seed, and is projected to be about an eight-seed in the women’s version of the dance. There will be a lot of good basketball at The Al, so consider checking the schedule and heading down.

Also, Marquette Men’s Lacrosse, fresh off last year’s first-ever NCAA appearance in just its fourth year, opens its home slate with the Midwest Lacrosse Classic at the new Valley Fields Dome. Ohio State, Bellarmine and Detroit will also take part, so if you have time, there will be games at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Friday, then at noon & 3 p.m. Sunday. You might even know the PA announcer.

IN THE MEANTIME: Marquette/Creighton, Saturday at 1:30 p.m. downtown. It’s kind of a big deal.

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