As we said before the game, the task for YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles was straightforward and simple tonight: win, and you distinguish yourself from the indecipherable bubble mass and, for all intents and purposes, secure a bid to the NCAA tournament.
If you've been paying attention this year, you know Marquette's not really interested in making things easy.
And so another Senior Night became memorable for all the wrong reasons, as Jimmy Butler was left to fend for himself against the marauding Bearcat horde and Marquette dropped a critical 67-60 decision to Cincinnati. Like a baby that can't stand to be separated from his binky, the Golden Eagles returned once again to the warm embrace of the bubble, needing a win in the conference season finale at Seton Hall to avoid a nerve-wracking Selection Sunday.
(Actually, I've got one more thing to say on that topic, because, on second thought, I've understated the issue: Marquette HAS TO win on Saturday to keep its tournament hopes alive. Lose on Saturday, and you're sitting on 13 losses. Add in another in the Big East tournament, since no team has a prayer of winning five games in five days, and MU is left with 14 losses on the year. I find it very hard to believe that the Committee is going to take a 14-loss Big East team to round out the field, no matter the dreck that surrounds us on the bubble. Just a hunch.)
There's a lot of blame to go around in this one, but most of the fault falls on the shoulders of Coach Buzz Williams, who turned in Epic Fails in three areas tonight:
- The team wasn't ready to play. You saw this from the moment Darius Johnson-Odom and Junior Cadougan started winging cross-court passes and, failing that, trying to dribble through Cincinnati's full court press. It didn't look like either of the last two days of practice had been devoted to press break, which, in the wake of the hiccups vs. the token Providence press on Sunday, is downright galling.
The defense was a mess -- again. To put it bluntly: Cincinnati is not a good offensive team. They struggle from the outside and from the line and rely on transition baskets and offensive rebounds to score. And yet somehow, someway, Marquette gave up 1.18 points per possession to UC tonight. All that talk about the positive trends on defense went right out the window at the worst possible time, in part (I think) due to Buzz's decision to play man defense in the halfcourt in the second half. Because we always -- ALWAYS -- have to double on a paint touch, we had guys scrambling to contest jumpers when the ball was reversed, which left the paint undefended and provided offensive rebound opportunities a-plenty. As they have all year, 'Nati cashed in those second chances.
- The officials took control of the game at the worst possible moments. The whistles were uneven tonight, to put it kindly, and that was true for both teams: Cincinnati had twice as many fouls as Marquette, though they earned most of 'em with a lot of reaches and jostles 30 feet from the basket. The officials noticed the disparity, though, and did their level best to try to even the calls, whistling Marquette for blocks on two blatant charges and ignoring over-the-back hacks by 'Nati during the deciding moments of the game. On your home court, you can't let that happen. If you have to get a T, if you have to spend an entire timeout giving an official an earful, you do it.
It's late and I'm tired and there's not much else to say, so let's JUMP and put this miserable thing to bed:
- In hindsight, we probably should've taken Junior Cadougan's and Chris Otule's performances against Providence with a Rhode Island-sized grain of salt. Maybe, just maybe, we read a little too much into the big games from the little man and the big man (respectively) in a contest against a team that's playing out the string for a coach who's not going to be back next year. Junior's line was gruesome tonight -- 4 points, 2 assists, 1 rebound, 3 turnovers and two missed free throws -- and though Otule had 9 boards (six on offense), he only managed 2 points and also committed three turnovers.
- Also MIA tonight: Jae Crowder. He hasn't put up the big scoring numbers in recent weeks, but that's been forgiven because he's attacked the backboards with reckless abandon. Tonight, he didn't do either: 3 points on 1-4 from the field and 3 rebounds in 32 minutes. Yikes.
- While I was writing that last paragraph, DJO shot-faked three times, passed up an open three, then dribbled out to the top of the key and passed the ball to Dwight Buycks on the wing.
- Vander Blue didn't get off the pine in the first half, but he did his best to make up for lost time when he was inserted halfway through the second half. Kid was flying all over the place, tipping passes and playing in-your-shorts D and trying to get something going on offense. His game went from a discouraging DNP-Coach's Decision to an encouraging-but-brief seven-minute stint in a hurry.
- Jimmy Butler is a MAN, now, forever, and always. There was absolutely nothing else he could've done to win that game tonight. His coach and his crew let him down, and that's too bad.
Jimmy Butler Player of the Game Award: The kid from Tomball put up the first 30-point performance by a Marquette player since Jerel McNeal's sublime effort against Missouri in the NCAA tournament in 2008. Cheers, Jimmy Butler. We'd be lost without you, and we're going to miss you.
Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: Slim pickin's here, but Vander Blue did some things in his short time on the court. If he can bring that energy and defense in the next couple weeks, there's minutes to be had.
Up Next: Marquette travels to the Garden State for a Saturday matinee in Jeremy Hazell's final game as a Seton Hall Pirate. The VOLUME SHOOTER ALERT is on Thread Level Midnight for this one.