If you’re a regular Marquette Courtside reader, I pity you, but you probably know we conclude most blogs with our “Courtside Splinters,” smaller, less-developed, sometimes-random thoughts. The column is best kept around 1,400 words, so we often have room for little more than a throwaway reference to the upcoming schedule. This week, though, there are simply too many things to hit on after MU’s wild ride against Seton Hall in the BIG EAST Tournament, as well as in the run-up to Madness.
So guess what? This week, you get nothing but splinters! It’s my blog; I can do what I want. Here goes:
WOLVES IN STRIPED CLOTHING: You might think, after what national pundits agreed was a poorly officiated conference-tournament weekend, this isn’t the time to call out Marquette fans for how much they like to boo officials, both virtually and in-person. Quite the contrary. This is the exactly the time.
I, and most of basketball-watching humanity, disagreed with James Breeding’s decision to hit Theo John with a Flagrant 2 and eject him from the BIG EAST semifinal. He said John pushed Myles Powell in mid-air. If that was a push, my wife could bring me up on charges every time we embrace. John barely touched Powell. The only thing I can see is maybe Powell’s reaction sold Breeding on the push being harder, but even that seems like a stretch. Furthermore, I consider the fact a player can be ejected for two flagrant fouls, or two technical fouls, but not for a flagrant and a technical, be a rule loophole. Powell committed two acts of overt aggression, physical against Sacar Anim and verbal against John. John, meanwhile, brushed a hand on Powell, then tried to defuse the situation. That John got ejected and Powell didn’t is unjust, but the rule sets up such a situation. It’s a loophole the NCAA can easily close over the offseason by saying any sum of two technical or flagrant fouls means you’re done.
Here’s a reason they might not close it, though: They might not want to be seen to “give in” to one of the overall whiniest fanbases in college basketball when it comes to officiating. Seriously. If they do make the change, there will certainly be a segment of non-Marquette fans who say, “Oh, sure, give into the spoiled, private-school complainers.” The NCAA might not want to encourage such behavior.
The problem with griping about every borderline call is it’s much harder to make a case when something truly is blatantly wrong. Cry ‘wolf’ often enough and the townspeople stop listening. Stomping your feet and screaming over every little thing not going your way is a spoiled-brat way to deal with adversity.
Be upset about what happened with John on Saturday. But when it comes to a touch foul when MU’s up 18 on Tick Tock Tech in December, or even the borderline calls in regular-season conference games? Knock it off. Think first about how it could have gone the other way if you were a fan of the other team. If you can make sense of it, don’t say a darn thing, don’t tweet #RefShow, none of it. It’s keeping officiating from being a career anyone really wants to pursue, because they don’t want to deal with that crap. That’s leaving a small pool of men and women who actually want to do it, resulting in poorer officiating. As such, you’re partly to blame when things go wrong. So stop it already.
WHILE WE’RE AT IT: Related topic — no, John does not get into foul trouble “just because he’s big.”
There’s a simple thing he does too much that causes his foul issues: He actively uses his arms. That makes for some highlight-reel blocks, but when he goes for those and misses, or even just angles his arms and contacts an opposing shooter, that’s getting called. You’d expect it to get called 10, 15, 20 or 25 feet from the basket. There’s no line on the floor that stops it from getting called within that range.
John is likeable as a person, and his fouls are ones of effort, which makes it all the more tempting to defend him. He’s trying as hard as possible to impact shots; perhaps too hard. But defense is fundamental: Be quicker to the spot than the guy with the ball, get set, and be straight up and down, arms included. If John just stood in place and put his hands straight up, that alone would make him tough to shoot over. But because he leans and tries to reach out all the time, teams take advantage. If he stops that, he stays out of foul trouble more, stays on the floor and even loses some of the reputation he’s earned for being overly physical. So yeah, cut it out with that excuse, too.
REMEMBER YOUR ROOTS: Nearly 18,000 people attend Marquette home games. I’m one of about 10 that gets to sit in on the postgame press conference and ask questions. That’s quite a privilege. If you told 14-year-old me he’d get to do 36-year-old me does, 14-year-old me wouldn’t believe you.
It was 14-year-old me who, clinging to the edge of the Brookfield Central High School swimming pool on a November day in 1996, heard Paul Naumann make a plea. A gym teacher for many years, Naumann was retiring and had apparently asked every class, every year, if anyone would be willing to do stats for Central’s basketball team, never getting any takers. This time, though, he got not just one, but two.
My buddy Jon Gianos-Steinberg, floating somewhere near me that day, and I would team up to do stats for Central Basketball over the next four years. Not only did the likes of Naumann, head coach Bill Graf, assistant Ralph Mierow and Graf’s eventual replacement, Mark Adams, give us the chance to be involved, they taught us the game and instilled us with a belief that what we were doing was important. I developed computer-generated charts and stats during a time when just about every other high school was lucky if someone was around to tally rebounds and assists. To this day, when I’m struggling, I think back to when I was at Central and remind myself — I was far ahead of my time. I knew what I was doing, but I also learned and grew. I belonged. I might be a 5-foot-6 computer nerd, but damn it, there was a place for me at Central, and there is a place for me in this business. High school basketball and football stats led to work at UWM, where they got me involved in radio, and so on.
Central went to the state semifinals in 2000, my senior year. That matched the furthest any Central boys’ basketball team went before or since, until this year’s Central team, led by Adams’ replacement, Dan Wandrey, won the D1 title Saturday night. I drove to the Kohl Center to root them on from the last row and was overjoyed to see Mierow, still on the staff, have his moment. It was the least I could do.
If you ever wonder like someone like me gets to someplace like this, it often starts with someone believing in them. As such, take the time to believe in the good people in your lives and support them, too. It matters, and I’m glad the lineage of the folks who believed in me got to shine Saturday.
MADNESS! So hey, that’s a lot of talk about the past. What about Marquette’s first-round NCAA tournament game coming up Thursday against Murray State?
We’re near 1,400 words, so here’s the gist: The game’s in Connecticut at about 3:30 p.m. CDT, they’re the Racers, everyone’s excited to see Ja Morant against Markus Howard and, with MU having lost five of its last six, no one’s feeling real confident, especially given it’s a dreaded 5-12 matchup. If Marquette survives, we’ll do a recap Friday and maybe a blog Saturday. If not, just promise me you’ll only bemoan the refs if it’s truly warranted, OK?
Photo: Getty Images