What To Expect When You Expect to be Dancing
BIG EAST Tournament will be an appetizer?
Let’s start this week’s column by making something perfectly clear: This Marquette men’s basketball season is a success. Marquette exceeded expectations and is considered, by most reputable sources, to be one of the teams that should be selected for the NCAA tournament.
Granted, success wasn’t a certainty until, quite literally, the last few minutes of the season. If Marquette found a way to lose against Creighton on Senior Day — and goodness knows we’ve seen them have second-half stumbles this year — it would have fallen from the BIG EAST’s fourth seed to its sixth, finished conference play a questionable 9-9, left another bad taste in everyone’s mouth and put its at-large chances in peril. Heck, Luke Fischer doesn’t even get engaged if that happens.
The road had more than a few moments along the way where legitimate doubts were valid. Just a few weeks ago, Marquette was 6-7 in the BIG EAST and losers of four of its previous five after a very bad loss to one of the lesser Georgetown teams in recent memory. However, the turnaround happened, Marquette won four of its last five and finished the season in the same boat as the Bluejays, Seton Hall and Providence: 10-8 in the conference and seemingly too good to leave off the bracket. It ended up being good optics to have those teams finish with that same record. On sight alone, it’s easy to justify having six BIG EAST teams selected when the conference has six teams above .500.
Go back to the preseason coaches’ poll. MU was supposed to finish seventh. They ended up tied for third. If doing better than you were supposed to is the baseline for success, Marquette was undeniably successful this year. It doesn’t matter how it happened, only that it did.
For finding a way to do it, Steve Wojciechowski and Marquette deserve every ounce of credit they receive. If your only knowledge of Marquette Basketball were to come from reading Marquette Courtside, this success might take you by surprise. (Also, if that really is the case, please figure out whatever is seriously wrong with you.) This has been a topsy-turvy season to say the least. Enough things have been flawed with this team from one week to the next to always make for something we could think critically, or blog critically, about on Thursday morning. But the end result is what matters. We’re tough but fair here. It’s only fair to tip our caps right now, no matter what the ride was like.
Now … what’s next?
First up is the BIG EAST Tournament. As a four seed, Marquette gets a rematch this afternoon against a Seton Hall team it fumbled away two late leads against in January. A single Marquette rebound would have stemmed a tide that ended in a Pirates’ win on New Year’s Day. Ten days later, overtime was needed for Marquette to bounce back after letting another advantage go.
The only truly, ultimately bad result today would be getting blown out by Seton Hall. That might make the NCAA First Four feel like it’s at risk of being back in play. The next-worst result would be losing another game where Marquette throws away a sizable lead. This wouldn’t be as bad as a blowout for NCAA purposes, but would strike another blow to a program that played its most consistent and confident basketball the last couple weeks. A simple, straightforward loss to Seton Hall probably doesn’t change MU’s path much, as it would just speak to the tournament-worthy talent of the Pirates.
Of course, if Marquette wins, it advances to face either 800-pound gorilla Villanova or a St. John’s team that literally outfought Georgetown last night. I’m not counting the feisty Red Storm out of a massive upset of the Wildcats, but Villanova will be the most likely foe. Just getting to this point would make everything in the BIG EAST Tournament from then forward gravy. Frankly, if a Marquette loss begins looking somewhat inevitable at any point in the semifinals or finals, I’d be totally fine with Wojciechowski making sure key guys end up on the bench unhurt. Winning a BIG EAST title still means something, notably an additional banner for the team’s final year in the BMO Harris Bradley Center, but not as much as winning a game or more in the NCAA tournament.
Then, onto the Selection Show. Marquette, by rule, will not land in Milwaukee. Fans will be rooting for MU to land in Indianapolis, followed maybe Tulsa. A number of so-called experts are calling MU a dangerous dance partner due to how well it can shoot. Alas, while those of us who have followed this team all year know it can beat anyone when its offense is aflame, any opponent that also has some offensive ability can rise up and beat Marquette if MU’s having an off-night due to Marquette’s still-iffy defense. While an upset or two seems realistic, the Final Four would take an over-the-top run.
One can’t lose sight, however, of how unlikely it was for Marquette just to get to this point a few weeks ago. This team that turned things around and accomplished its biggest goal for the season. If that’s possible, then who knows what else is.
LADIES’ NIGHT: Congrats to Carolyn Kieger and the Marquette women’s basketball for paving the way to the women’s version of the dance by winning the BIG EAST title at the Al McGuire Center on Tuesday night. Fun fact: The first time I did play-by-play for a Marquette game, I was calling UWM women’s basketball for the Panthers and Kieger was playing for MU. The womens’ bracket is revealed Monday.
HOYA ASKA: We eluded to it above, but this was a bad year for Georgetown, prompting questions about John Thompson III’s job security — that is, unless the Hoyas’ sports information staff doesn’t allow the media to ask them. C’mon, Georgetown. You have a quality journalism school and, as an institution, you’re supposed to stand up for the press better than that. Set a better example. And if any other SIDs are getting ideas from this, I urge them — don’t.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: It has truly been awesome to take you through the 2016-17 Marquette season. However, let’s remind everyone that, as often as I use the word “we” in Marquette Courtside, that “we” is basically me, Dan Pfeifer, doing all the writing.
I have an opportunity next week to do something I’ve done the last two times the NCAA tournament has come through Milwaukee in 2010 and ‘14: Helping behind the scenes with coordinating media efforts. It’s an honor to do it, though it’s quite consuming work. As such, I can’t guarantee I’ll find the time to write a proper NCAA preview blog if Marquette should qualify, nor will I ensure I’ll be in front of my computer to live-tweet a Marquette game. Responsibility comes first.
If that’s the case, I have a feeling we won’t talk again until the field’s been narrowed to 16. That week will then feature a rather exciting preview column, or a season recap. Go ahead and hope for the former (or enough free time for me to write a blog in between).