Marquette couldn’t have finished the pre-Selection Show season much worse. Remove a win over Creighton in the final game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center and what you have left is a road loss against the BIG EAST’s worst team in DePaul; a neutral-site victory over the same team that was only inches from another defeat, and a walloping at the hands of Villanova. While yes, there’s a healthy segment of Marquette fans that wanted to believe in alchemy like good wins or having at least one Wisconsin team in the NCAA tournament for ratings, they were misguided. The Marquette team we saw in three late-season games belonged nowhere near the real March Madness. The NCAA agreed.
So the NIT it is, was, and will be when Marquette plays Oregon in the second round Sunday after earning a two-seed in the bracket and beating Harvard at the Al McGuire Center last night, 67-60. While The Al sold out rapidly for the game, the contest had the feel of one of the WIAA high-school super-sectionals played in the building moreso than a college game, particularly when broken into quarters as part of the experimental rules implemented. The fact Markus Howard was able to lead everyone in scoring with a mere 22 points was telling. It’s not like Marquette got impressively hot, and there were still some of the trademark defensive lapses and late-game foibles that were all-too-characteristic this season. But Harvard’s kids are going to be far better in their business lives than they were shooting last night. Marquette moved on accordingly.
It was less-than-thrilling basketball in a gym without a videoboard, properly functioning Wi-Fi or media timeouts that didn’t feel painfully drawn out due to the lack of the first two items. But it was also at least basketball, a sport Marquette is still playing while Wisconsin, Green Bay and Milwaukee are not. So there’s that, even if it’s a small consolation.
Marquette still appears flawed. It goes beyond the defense. Once again, only one of the Treys Amigos, Howard, seemed to show up. Andrew Rowsey had just three points heading into the final quarter, and Sam Hauser, looking healthier than after an awkward slip in the BIG EAST Tournament, still was largely a non-factor after getting into early foul trouble. Additionally, final-minute turnovers, even when leading, feel like a plague for Marquette, particularly Howard, who looks lost in double-teams. Marquette’s struggles with late-game pressure, though it’s not like there’s any area, other than three-point shooting, where MU couldn’t use a little improvement.
Still, the NIT is the proverbial Island of Misfit Toys. Yes, the tournament probably means more to Marquette than other schools because of its NIT history, as we outlined in a blog a few years ago. Plus the potential slate of matchups in Marquette’s bracket — Harvard, Oregon and Notre Dame — at least features name teams, including a traditional MU rival. But it’s still the “Not Invited Tournament,” “No Interest Tournament,” or any one of a number of pejorative nicknames fans have come up with through the years. With each participating team, you can find reasons why they weren’t NCAA-worthy. Case in point, Marquette and Harvard combined for 42 turnovers last night, while a couple nights ago, I tuned into the Notre Dame/Hampton NIT game just in time to see a blown breakaway dunk for the Irish, even while her loyal sons were marching onward to victory. It did not shake down the thunder from the sky.
No one makes out NIT brackets. Ratings aren’t any better than regular-season games. Yes, NIT teams sometimes go to great places the following year. But sometimes they don’t.
The NIT is an OK place to visit, but you don’t want to live there. Another trip next year won’t be satisfactory for Marquette. This one isn’t, really, either, but again — at least it’s something.
AN ODE TO BIG MAC: I wrote a blog last year about my favorite Marquette team of all-time, the 1993-94 squad. My favorite player, no doubt, was Robb Logterman. But Jim McIlvaine was an undeniable force. With Damon Key and Tony Miller, those guys allowed me to counter the many rah-rah Badgers fans I dealt with as a sixth-grader at Wisconsin Hills Elementary School with a little of the Marquette pride instilled in me by my alumnae sister and aunt, along with my MUHS-grad father.
I don’t bring up McIlvaine or Steve “The Homer” True a lot in blogs or tweets because it’s bad form, when employed by a radio station, to pay heed to those on another station. I don’t want you even thinking there’s another option on the dial, even if they’re the flagship of the team I’m talking about.
Like everyone else, though, I have personal hopes and dreams, and like most folks’ hopes and dreams, they’re often tied to what brought us joy in youth.
Getting to be involved, in a visible way, with one of my favorite teams has been a dream since I was a kid. When years go by and you find yourself taking small, but meaningful, steps, such that the dream starts seeming somewhat realistic, you wonder if it could happen. I never imagined I’d get to work either in the media or for Marquette. I saw both as reserved for only the smartest and most-privileged. But I started in radio in 2002, and in 2007, I did my first PA announcing for the university. Through the years, I’ve done enough play-by-play to be taken seriously, while Marquette has let me be a part of their athletics program for over a decade. And yes, you still pinch yourself when you get to work with Kent Sommerfeld, who’s seen so much Marquette and Milwaukee Brewers history as a producer, or an icon from your childhood like McIlvaine, engages *you* in talk about a truly awful TV show online.
Even up until last night, I still held onto a somewhat childish dream about the pieces falling right: Homer deciding to hang it up, or MU games landing on a station I happen to be a part of at that moment. Sommerfeld vouching for me from our high school football work. Marquette knowing I’m in their camp from years of PA announcing and blogging. McIlvaine at least remembering my face and thinking I was likeable enough. And, as a result, getting to do one of my favorite things — calling games — alongside a hero from my youth in McIlvaine, even if joking the whole time about our massive height differential.
But, alas, sometimes when you’re waiting in line, they close the ride before you can get on. Such will be the case with at least one part of that dream. McIlvaine announced last night that he’s actually going to beat Homer to the punch in leaving the broadcast. Unless Mac can talk Logterman into taking his place, it’s just not going to feel the same (to me, at least) knowing a part of that special Sweet 16 team isn’t still regularly around. I could see a Dan Fitzgerald or Steve Novak filling the role and doing amazingly well, but I’m actually older than both. The awe and wonder of a guy you watched as an impressionable kid, who brought success to your favorite team for the first time in your lifetime, is hard to match.
I may never get to fill Homer’s shoes. For all I know, I might have already peaked as a broadcaster, and thoughts of doing anything more than high school games might be just that — thoughts, or an unrealistic dream. But either way, I’ll miss Mac.
Check out his new podcast and join me in wishing him well in moving on.
Video: Marquette Golden Eagles