Welcome back to Marquette Courtside, returning after two weeks off to prepare for, then recover from, the WIAA State Football Championships. Even in the time off, however, one thing returned, or moreso remained the same: Marquette Basketball’s vexing inconsistency.
In case you need a quick catch-up, here’s what’s happened since we last wrote: Marquette dominated UMBC and Bethune-Cookman, then went to Indiana and laid an egg before allowing Presbyterian (?) to take a six-point lead with 12:44 remaining at Fiserv Forum. Marquette fought back for a 19-point win, but needed the wake-up call of being down two baskets deep in the second half to a team named the Blue Hose to get there. MU took the momentum of the strong finish against PC and kept it going against second-ranked Kansas at the NIT Tip-Off in Brooklyn, leading by 11 shortly before halftime. A Jayhawk bucket just before the end of the half, however, kickstarted a 24-0 run — no typo, you read that right — in which Kansas took the lead and never looked back. That meant a trip to the tournament consolation game against old BIG EAST foe Louisville, in which the Cardinals led for over 30 minutes before missing three golden opportunities at the end of regulation with the game tied. Marquette found a way to win in overtime, but while the result was nice, the path to it was dismaying.
After the Bethune-Cookman win, Marquette was briefly in the national rankings at 24. Not only did it get bumped after the Indiana loss, it was replaced by a rival team whose games this station just happens to carry. In the most-recent AP poll, Marquette didn’t even garner votes. Alas, Marquette has shown it can run with the second-best team in the country, but can also play losing basketball against Hoosiers, Hose and team whose names start with other letters of the alphabet. They are, at best, inconsistent, which wouldn’t be all that bad for a team with a healthy number of new guys — if that was a new phenomenon. It’s not, though. Last year, Marquette beat 13th-ranked Seton Hall, then lost a must-win game to lowly DePaul with a “young” team. Two years ago, the guys danced on the scorer’s table after beating Villanova, then lost four of their next five, including a stinker at St. John’s. We’ve talked about inconsistency in this blog last year, the year before that (in fact, we talked about it a bunch that year) and the year before that (note that the format of the website starts getting wonky the further back we go). In 2015-16, we mostly talked about Henry Ellenson, but we even did blogs about how inconsistent he was. The names, players and stylesheet for The Big 920’s website have changed, but there’s one constant: Marquette seems capable of being a world-beater one minute, then disappoints the next. Of course, that then makes you turn your head toward another constant for Marquette the last five years — Steve Wojciechowski and his staff.
There’s little more frustrating for fans of a team than feeling like that team isn’t living up to its potential. Packer fans know the feeling right now, as do Badgers fans (kinda fun posting that last link — it’s an MU blog, after all). It’s particularly frustrating when a team shows you what it’s capable of doing, then doesn’t do it much. That’s been the case for a lot of Wojo’s tenure. Marquette’s brief appearance in, and quick exit from, the rankings is more evidence the staff hasn’t figured out the formula for steady success in the nearly half a decade it’s run one of the nation’s best-funded programs. Marquette fans were ready to vent anti-Mike McCarthy-like rage after the Kansas loss, and even late in the Louisville game, many were even less happy. Yet while the late comeback kept a scene out of Frankenstein from occurring, things are still on edge. The sheer number of times we’ve seen Marquette
hit rough patches makes every subsequent one more grating, no matter what positives you can point to at the same time. Plus, it’s more difficult to think of extended stretches of good basketball against quality opposition than it is to recall MU has stubbing its toe. The few games before the NCAA tournament bid in 2016 and the run at the 2015 Legends Classic come to mind, but other than strings of non-conference buy games, Marquette hasn’t had many true win streaks, particularly against BIG EAST foes. Without sustained momentum, MU is often stuck in the middle of the conference standings feels like a team with better talent than its record reflects. Fan consternation then follows.
The other tough part about an inconsistent team is it’s difficult to come up with answers. Every opponent presents a different challenge, so adjustments are always key. But it’s never felt like it was just one thing with Marquette. Sure, there have been disappointments through the years. There are transfer guards (Matt Carlino, Andrew Rowsey and now Joseph Chartouny) who have been underwhelming at key times. There are high-potential scorers (Ellenson, Rowsey and Markus Howard) who have disappeared for painfully long stretches. There’s little things, like how it’s never felt like Wojo’s had a reliable point guard or a big man who can consistently deliver 15 and 10 without fouling out at key times. You expect some years’ rosters to have holes, but the fact these holes have been somewhat constant may start to explain Marquette’s instability.
We said it in our first blog of the non-TBT season: Anything less than an NCAA tournament bid this year, barring major injuries, is a disappointment, given the talent present. That still holds. At the moment, Marquette seems like it might be bubblicious as ever. It’s a head-shaker and feels less than satisfactory. And, as usual, it’s impossible to know what to expect because of the wide variance in results we’ve seen.
At this point, Marquette fans can only hope for the best. It is a faith-based school, after all. You just wonder how much hope, faith and patience they’ll have if this continues, though.
THAT’S NOT WHAT WE MEANT BY DRIVE THE LANE: Another car crashed into The Al McGuire Center early Saturday, joining the bus that hit Johnston Hall last year as the third vehicle to have a 12th Street-related incident in recent memory. This one, though, got onto the court and had to be towed out the way it came in. The driver is suspected to have been drunk and immensely stupid.
The good news is those seats you see the car being pulled over were out when the car entered, but they were able to fold them up in order to get the car out. I saw another picture of the scene with the stand out and many seats damaged. I can only think that the fact they were able to operate the mechanism to retract the stand is a good sign.
One Marquette women’s game scheduled for the building was moved to Fiserv Forum; another Wednesday against UWM will be played on that campus. Marquette Volleyball earned the right to host NCAA tournament matches this weekend and usually plays in that gym. I know they’re working desperately to make sure as many people as possible can be there to watch. Once things are fixed, though, it’s time to surround that building, and probably the new Athletic & Human Performance Research Center across the street, with a whole bunch of bollards. It’s a variation on the cliché, but once is an accident, twice is two accidents, and both are too many, too scary and too costly.
MEANWHILE: Men’s basketball is back in action tonight against Charleston Southern at the Forum before facing Kansas State on Saturday. Tip tonight is at 7 p.m.
Photo: Getty Images