Yawn! It's August 20th today, and I have to be honest with you all: I'm f*cking bored. There just isn't a whole lot to get excited about right now. I love baseball more than any other sport. But the Milwaukee Brewers suck, and haven't generated any excitement since about April. The rest of the pennant race action is still weeks away from getting fully heated up. The NFL started... I don't care. I like the NFL when it comes around. I'm intrigued by the Packers this season, don't get me wrong. But I'm not one of these guys that love the NFL so much that they want to follow every day of practice and catch every preseason game. In fact, I hate preseason football. All I do is watch the starters, cringe and mutter "don't get hurt, don't get hurt, don't get hurt" over and over again. College football? I enjoy it but it doesn't move the needle all that much for me. I'll watch casually on Saturdays, rooting for Nebraska (so Warrior Brad is civil to be around) and whoever is playing the Badgers. The PGA Championship came to Wisconsin. That was awesome for four days, but it's not like it got me fired up for the upcoming FedEx Cup race. (That's what it's called right? The FedEx Cup? All I know is if the players don't even care, then I damn sure don't.) All this boredom has caused my mind to wander, and ponder the question on every Marquette fan's mind this time of year - Is it time for college basketball season yet??? The Milwaukee Pro Am was just enough to whet our appetites. Dammit, I'm ready for it NOW. So as I sit here and daydream about Marquette hoops, here are 10 things that I find myself getting excited about.
10) Player Progression - There are a few returning players that me, and every other MU fan, are going to be very interested to see in the upcoming season. The two that stick out to me are Chris Otule and Erik Williams. Otule has always been a guy that big man starved Golden Eagle fans have been waiting to see produce. He definitely is big. But can he play? Can he play enough to be a factor in the Big East? Two injury plagued seasons have prevented anyone from even getting a hint of the answer to those questions. But we are all hopeful that this will be the season that he emerges and provides the interior help we have craved. As for E-Will, everyone is waiting to see the player that we heard about coming out of high school. Last season he was buried on the bench, and when he did play he was miscast a bit as more of an interior player. This year there are minutes to be had on the wing, both filling the void left by Lazar Hayward's departure and spelling Jimmy Butler. I'm curious to see if Williams gets enough run to show us what he's really made of.
9) UWM @ the US Cellular Arena - We'll see if UWM can finally get the stunning win they've been promising us for the past 3 seasons when this show crosses State Street to the US Cellular Arena. My prediction: Another MU win and a lot of Golden Eagle fans wondering what the hell they're going to do with the UWM/Youngstown State tickets they were forced to buy to get in the door for this one. But it will be interesting to see if they Panthers can muster a partisan crowd, or at least enough fans to make it seem 50-50, with the game in their own building.
8) Reggie Smith -
Yeah, he might be fun.
7) The Dukies Baby - Monday, November 22nd, has a big circle on my calendar. That's when Marquette will throw down against the defending National Champs, the Duke Blue Devils. Can't wait to see the 2006 CBE championship game redux.
6) A New Year's Day Game - Last time we did this I planned poorly: Partying all night for New Year's Eve, waking up, having a bloody mary, going to the Polar Plunge, having a couple more drinks and then hitting up the game. I ended the day asleep, upright in a desk chair, in my living room. Oops. But in between Marquette got a great W, and I'm looking forward to getting another one to begin 2011 in style.
5) The renewal of hostilities with UW-Green Bay - GB had a nice year last year, and knocked off Bucky up at the Resch Center. It's always interesting to play the in state teams. I always say, if you're going to eat cupcakes you might as well eat local. Making the matchup even more interesting is that former Marquette star...err...umm.... yeah I guess "star"... Brian Wardle is now the head man for the Phoenix, after former Tom Crean assistant, Todd Kowalczyk, took the head job at Toledo. (And I'm still not sure how Toledo is a better job)
4) DJO- Darius Johnson-Odom had coaches around the country asking, "Why the hell didn't we recruit this kid?" He was lights out shooting the ball all year - finishing atop the Big East and in the top 10 in the nation in 3-point percentage at a silly 47.4%. He seemed to get progressively better as the season went on. He cut down on some of the turnovers, started playing better defense, and kept pouring in buckets. By March, confidence in his stroke was nearly Novakian. There was no such thing as a bad shot. He scored 24 in MU's upset win over Villanova in the Big East Tourney, and 19 in the NCAA loss to Washington. This season everyone will be looking to DJO to shoulder even more of the load offensively, while teams are going to be even more aware of him defensively. He will have to continue to cut down on turnovers and continue to improve on defense. One thing I'll be looking for from DJO is can he put together two solid halves of basketball. Last year it seemed like he would be lights out for the first half, then disappear in the second. Or he'd be a non-factor in the first, and then erupt in the second. He's capable of putting up an entire game's worth of production in only 20 minutes. If he stops having just great halves, and starts having great games, this kid could be dropping 40 on people this year.
3) Vander Blue - When I first set foot on Marquette's campus as a student, Mike Deane was still the coach and the freshman that everyone was buzzing about was Cordell Henry. Now nothing against Cordell, or any recruit that has come since him, but I don't think there's ever been an incoming recruit generating as much juice as Vander Blue is this year. The entire saga with the Badgers, the national attention and acclaim, all create an air of excitement around this kid like nothing we've seen at MU in a while. Any Marquette fan who tells you he's not excited to see this kid lace 'em up in blue and gold this year is either crazy, a liar or just not paying attention.
2) The Badgers @ the Bradley Center - Have I mentioned that I hate the Badgers? Oh no? Well I do. I hate those evil communist rodents so very, very much. And I can't wait to get them in our place this year and return the favor that they bestowed on us in Madison last year. Saturday, December 11th, 1:30 pm on the ESPN family of networks, it will be ON. I like a 1:30 start. That leaves plenty of celebrating time for after we beat those red bastards. Now, I'm not delusional. I know it's probably going to be a nail biter, never over 'til it's over, kind of game that will have me on the edge of my seat, nervously guzzling Miller Lite. But hey, it's August, now is the time for bluster.
1) Jimmy Butler - It's his show now. We've seen Jimmy Butler progress from an understated, role player/glue guy, to an invaluable starter. Now Butler must progress even further, to the role of senior leader and number one option. Butler has completed a two year course in senior leadership, taught by some of the best players that one could ever want to learn from. Last season there were times that you could almost see Lazar Hayward showing him, "this is how it's done man, it's going to be your turn next." All indications are that Butler is going to have no problem stepping into that role. As far as being the number one option goes, he has given us no reason to believe he's not up to that challenge either. Last season he expanded his offensive repertoire. He showed he could knock down open 3s. He showed creativity in getting to the rack, scoring and/or getting fouled. Butler ranked 2nd in the Big East in free throw attempts last season and shot 76% when he got there, making the charity strip a big part of his game. And last but not least, he showed us that when everything falls apart and you need someone to take, and make, a big shot, he can be that guy. In case you need a reminder, here you go.
So there it is. That's what's on the mind of this guy as we trudge through the dog days of August. I'd say we should look into getting a countdown to Marquette Madness clock on this site, but the truth is I'd rather not be constantly reminded of how far away it is.