Marquette Courtside: Asking Questions Too Soon, TBT Edition

This has probably been the busiest summer in some time for Marquette Basketball news. Yesterday not only produced highlights from a 5-on-5 Kasten Gym scrimmage that set the #mubb hashtag abuzz, but also had a press conference, in which some key figures in the upcoming season gave thoughts on expectations that are seemingly getting higher by the day.

That’s fine and good, but let’s also remember Marquette’s varsity team is still months from playing even an exhibition game, not to mention the building they’ll be playing in isn’t even quite finished. Fact is, we’re not doing a summer edition of Marquette Courtside because of a scrimmage or press conference. We’re doing one because we promised to, if the Golden Eagles Alumni team in The Basketball Tournament advanced to the event’s semifinals — and that’s exactly what they did.

Despite my disappointment the Golden Eagles didn’t get to face the “Tim Thomas Playaz” in the TBT “Super 16,” given how poorly the team’s namesake played for the Bucks from 2001-02 onward, they did play the team that eliminated the team that eliminated the “Playaz,” the upstart Talladega Knights, against whom they knew what to do with their hands in a 73-66 victory.

That allowed the Golden Eagles to take on Boeheim’s Army, named for Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, in TBT’s quarterfinals, essentially creating a Marquette-Syracuse matchup mirroring the epic battles the former BIG EAST cohabitants fought before that silly oblong ball messed things up. It should also be noted, Syracuse’s fan base has been one of the few to embrace TBT hysteria more than Marquette’s. Take one look at this article and tell me they aren’t into it.

That said, the game between the two teams was everything advertised and then some. Travis Diener apparently drank from the fountain of youth shortly before the TBT’s odd-but-effective Elam Ending, then walked the Golden Eagles off as winners. That landed the Golden Eagles a trip to Baltimore and a spot in TBT’s semifinals tonight at 6 p.m. CDT. By 10 p.m. tomorrow night, they could plausibly, collectively, be $2 million richer.

Of course, three other teams stand in the way, and their collective backstories make TBT’s bracket sound like something out of BASEketball or Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. In the non-Golden Eagles semifinal, one team, Eberlein Drive, was so bad in the first edition of TBT, Sports Illustrated called them “the lost cause” of the event. However, they’ve upgraded from the initial group of childhood playground buddies to feature a roster of pro-caliber talent, including one-time Marquette hopeful Liam McMorrow. They’ll play Team Fredette, led by Jimmer Fredette, the 2011 collegiate player of the year whose shooting ability has never been doubted, but who also could never find significant minutes on an NBA roster. After spending the last two years lighting up the Chinese Basketball Association, he’s cemented his legacy as one of pro hoops’ greatest-ever head-scratchers.

The foe the Golden Eagles draw first, though, is more formidable on paper: Overseas Elite, winners of the last three TBTs, in addition to a sum of $5 million across those tournaments. While Elite doesn’t necessarily have names that pop off the page, they boast major-university talent that has, as its team name implies, played internationally. While the Pittsburgh-based team hasn’t looked unbeatable, advancing past Louisiana United in the Super 16 by just one point, they’ve continued to be tough and still boast an all-time record of 23-0 in TBT play. D.J. Kennedy and Kyle Fogg have each won TBT MVP honors before, and are back to try and win $2 million more.

Beating Overseas Elite might be one of the bigger basketball challenges the guys who make up Golden Eagles Alumni might ever face. But let’s ignore the boring question of how they might do that, skipping instead to the more-fun question, even if the scenario doesn’t come to fruition: What if they win?

This question spawns others, and makes you think about the nature of such a tournament.

HOW WOULD A GOLDEN EAGLES ALUMNI WIN HELP/HURT TBT? It would help it, no doubt. It would be a big step towards legitimizing it, as opposed to, say, Eberlein Drive taking the title. While there is some appeal to how TBT can be any group of schmoes getting together to win $2 million, fact is, the more legitimate organizations are involved — including universities with large athletics communications departments willing to help promote the event — the better the event will be. In hosting part of, and winning, the event, Golden Eagles Alumni would be setting the stage for other schools and conferences to consider doing the same. That only helps TBT in terms of exposure and gravitas.

HOW WOULD SUCH A WIN BE RECOGNIZED? You have to think Marquette Athletics would feel obliged to honor the team somehow. While beating a team named after either Fredette or a small street in Michigan probably wouldn’t be worthy of a Wisconsin Ave. ticker-tape parade, a halftime ceremony of some sort at a big Marquette game this season seems reasonable. Might there be a banner of some sort? If you ask Tom Crean, certainly. In the new arena? Maybe. At The Al, in the practice gym, where the Alumni did much to prepare for TBT? You almost have to note it on the wall somehow.

WHAT ABOUT THE MONEY? The way TBT works, 10 percent of the $2 million gets distributed among the top 201 team supporters, per the structure of the tournament where many teams get in based on online fan support. That leaves $1.8 million for the team members themselves to split. If the Golden Eagles Alumni’s TBT site is to be believed, each guy, GM Dan Fitzgerald included, would get nearly $140,000. That’s not drop-everything-and-retire money, but it’s a nice chunk of change, even after the government takes its share.

Of course, I have a feeling the guys on the team who are truly Marquette alumni — remember, the team has non-alums, too — will be heavily encouraged to make some sort of donation back to the university, given the logistical support provided, such as use of the practice gym and the chance to scrimmage current players. If the university either doesn’t or can’t benefit, my guess is there will be a push for the MACC Fund, which received part of the ticket revenue from the BIG EAST Pod, to stand in.

At some point, you also wonder if such tournaments are going to draw the ire of the NCAA, given that it’s kind of a way for players to get paid through their affiliation with an institution, albeit after their careers. Some may pooh-pooh this as an overreach of NCAA authority, but given the Byzantine nature of the organization, you never know.

It’s fun stuff to think about, as the possibility of the Golden Eagles Alumni winning the thing is one step closer to reality than it’s ever been before. Will we have yet another Marquette Courtside summer blog to come? We’ll find out. 

Photo: Dan Pfeifer

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