Courtside Returns in Strange DaysMarquette Courtside comes back to optimism about the team, but pessimism about the game
Dan Pfeifer here, back for a fourth year of online MU Basketball blogging here at Marquette Courtside.
We start up Courtside a little early this year because Marquette is starting game play early — earlier than we thought just a few days ago. We’ll actually see Marquette take the court Sunday in an exhibition game announced earlier this week against crosstown rival Milwaukee, benefiting hurricane relief. The game will be at the Al McGuire Center with no TV or stream, so if you can’t be there, and you’re Twitter-active, you may want to follow along here and here to track what’s going on.
Year four of Courtside starts with Marquette Basketball in a good place. The team made the NCAA tournament last year, but lost to a South Carolina team that was essentially playing a home game and pretty darn good. Theo John and Jamal Cain, among others, hop on board, meaning Marquette will remain pretty young, as both are expected to see significant playing time. Markus Howard and his continued path toward stardom is back, along with Andrew Rowsey and “The Thing” — the term derived for when Rowsey creates a four-point play, something he’s had an uncanny knack for doing.
Marquette, as it’s done each of its first three years under Steve Wojciechowski, has gotten deeper, more talented and better, although the rest of the BIG EAST has done so as well, meaning MU is again seen among the last of seven or eight potential tournament teams to come out of the 10-team conference. That’s about the same as both last year’s expectations and results, which has made this year’s offseason conversation about the team itself pretty straightforward.
We’d be remiss, however, to not start the year with some discussion about the clouds surrounding college basketball itself.
If you’re reading this blog, you’ve surely caught wind of the FBI arrests related to college basketball, including an assistant under former Milwaukee coach Bruce Pearl at Auburn. Suffice it to say, the sport is facing huge issues right now — ones we all knew were there, but largely shrugged away.
Consuming college basketball is like eating a hot dog. You know what goes on to make it can be anything from unsavory to pretty disgusting, but you focus on the dressings and enjoy the final product. Unfortunately, the scandal forces us to look at the game as a whole and ask a lot of questions.
First, yes, I am somewhat of a Marquette insider. But no, I’m not truly embedded. The extent of my talking to Wojciechowski consists of post-game press conferences. The extent of my being around the team is going to games, being the PA announcer for the Milwaukee Summer Pro-Am and occasionally seeing a player or two at the Marquette Soccer matches where I also do PA. You’ll get better info about Marquette’s recruiting process reading one of many message boards than you will in this blog.
That said, I try to keep my finger on the pulse of social media, and the general thought among fans of non-implicated teams is, while the sport is dirty, their program — whatever program that might be — is clean. The psychology is understandable. “Yeah, the whole thing’s bad. But my guys aren’t.” Consider all the St. Louis Cardinals fans who turned a blind eye to Mark McGwire “not talking about the past,” but quickly called Ryan Braun a huge cheater. Same thing.
Marquette fans think their program is clean. Wisconsin fans think their program is squeaky clean. Milwaukee fans have had three coaches over the last three years and know the program has administrative issues, though I suspect a feeling pervades: “Well, maybe some stuff went on under Pearl, but it’s probably been clean since.”
There’s been a lot of winning basketball played in this state since 2000. If we have three clean programs, and are beating other programs doing dirty business, we’re pretty exceptional.
I’m not leveling accusations. I know nothing specific or even vague. I eat the hot dogs, but I’ve never been near the hot dog factory. That said, if fans aren’t at least nervous, they’re kidding themselves.
The next question is the remedy. There is no answer right now.
Almost no one outside of NCAA circles is opposed to paying players, but doing so creates all kinds of issues for the NCAA itself. Big programs have huge budgets and spend lavishly on everything surrounding the players. But the NCAA also has to answer to programs just scraping by in Division I, non-revenue sports limited to barely enough scholarships to put a team on the field, and Division II and III teams. The organization exists, in part, to maintain competitive balance across a wide variety of schools in many sports. Above-board payment systematically changes that balance.
Men’s basketball is the BIG EAST’s bread and butter, quite literally its reason for both coming to be and surviving a rebirth. College basketball is too much of a revenue generator to think a decline will be permitted. Schools will find some way to make sure there’s still talent. Administrators will not let the G-League supplant March Madness. If there’s a need to overhaul the NCAA’s way of doing basketball business, it will have a big impact on the conference. But what that change looks like is anyone’s guess.
I suspect more dominoes will fall during the season. We’ll hear about it when they do. Yet it’s also possible this scandal won’t go as far as we might think. At some point, there are folks who may decide to fall on the sword to save the sport. Remember Greg Anderson with Barry Bonds and BALCO.
All I’m saying is this: Try not to be surprised with whatever happens. If anything, it will soften the blow, if and when we do find things out. Just don’t be naive.
WE DON’T NEED ANOTHER HERRO: For a week that, theoretically, should have just been about practices and scrimmages, there was a lot of off-court news, including Tyler Herro decommitting from Wisconsin. This isn’t just me wearing blue-and-gold glasses: I had a feeling there would eventually be a bit of a drop-off at Wisconsin, post-Bo Ryan, and it might be starting. The Badgers are only picked to finish seventh in the Big Fourteen, er, Ten this year, and Herro was seen as the future. Does he land at Marquette, a la Vander Blue? I don’t think so. If he somehow does, though, fur will fly on social media.
CRASH THE GLASS: A van left 12th St. and ran into the Al McGuire Center lobby this week. Because no one was seriously hurt, we can laugh about this, and some folks on Twitter did exactly that.
SHAMELESS PLUGS: While I’ll be at The Al Sunday for the exhibition, I’ll also be doing play-by-play for the Level 1 WIAA football playoff game between Greenfield & Bay View Friday night here on The Big 920. Join me and Tom Swittel at 6:45 for the pre-game show. Also, if you’re looking for something to do before the exhibition Saturday, come out to Valley Fields to hear me do PA for Marquette Women’s Soccer against Creighton at 1 p.m. It’s not like the Packers have Aaron Rodgers, anyway.