It was January 2001. Apple had just unveiled a digital media player called "iTunes" at its Macworld Expo in California. Everyone was dizzy with anticipation for the second season of Survivor, which was set in the Australian outback and debuted at the end of the month. A dude named Shaggy was on the top of the music charts with a charming ballad entitled "It Wasn't Me." After the results of the electoral college were certified by Congress two weeks earlier, George W. Bush was sworn in as the country's 43rd president on January 20.
And on January 13, 2001, YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles traveled to Chapel Hill for a nonconference matchup with the North Carolina Tar Heels. In an effort to get his fledgling program some national exposure, Precocious Tom Crean (these were the days before the Smarm had firmly taken root), in his second year at the helm for MU, took a plucky Golden Eagle team for a one-time engagement in the Dean Dome. Fresh off victories over conference foes DePaul and Cincinnati, the road trip was seen as something of a measuring stick for how far Marquette had come under Crean's tutelage, and how far it still had to go.
It was, to put it as mildly as possible, a complete and total ****ing catastrophe.
Outgunned, outmanned, outmuscled, outcoached -- and feel free to insert your own adjective meaning "vastly and almost comically inferior" here, if you'd like -- Marquette got manhandled from the opening bell. UNC only managed 43% shooting but held MU to 29.5% from the field, and enjoyed a healthy 36-21 advantage from the free throw stripe. Marquette's offense--which, at that time, consisted of Brian Wardle, Brian Wardle, and Brian Wardle--didn't have a chance against the more athletic Heels. The real story, though, was on the front lines: Carolina grabbed 50 (FIFTY!) rebounds to Marquette's 24, playing ping-pong with the ball while Brendan Haywood (17 and 9) and a sophomore beast named Julius Peppers (13 and 9) brutalized MU in the trenches. It was the varsity against the jayvee, if the jayvee was forced to play with its off-hand for the entire game.
Last night's demolition of what's expected to be (at the very least) a halfway-decent Marquette team at the hands of the excellent Florida Gators brought that debacle in Chapel Hill to mind, for me. I was a sophomore at Marquette when the UNC game happened, and I remember watching it and thinking: That's a team that's on a level we can't match on our best day. If we played as well as we can, and they played as poorly as they can, we'd probably still lose by 10. That's the same feeling I had last night as the marauding Gators had their way with Marquette.
Now, I'm not saying that this year's MU team is necessarily condemned to the same fate as that 2000-'01 team, which limped home with a 15-14 record and was a big ball of 'meh' for most of the season. It is still November, after all, and Buzz Williams' teams have traditionally shown significant improvement come conference season. What's troubling, though, is that, aside from Vander Blue, who seems to have finally drunk long and deep from the bottomless well of potential that accompanied him to Marquette, none of MU's players looked like they belonged on the floor last night:
Not Jamil Wilson, who again disappeared against legit competition; not Junior Cadougan, who looked every bit as overwhelmed and inept as he did against Florida in the Sweet 16 last year; not Davante Gardner, who couldn't begin to figure out how to get his offensive repertoire in gear against the Gator bigs; not Chris Otule, who got chewed up and spit out by Patric Young and Friends; not Trent Lockett, who's beginning to show signs of the dreaded "best guy on a bad team" syndrome; and the list goes on from there. Marquette's players couldn't compete against the impressive talent that Florida ran out there--and, most troubling of all, they looked like they knew it.
The angel on my shoulder says that this was a hiccup the likes of which we saw against Vanderbilt last year, or against UNC in the tournament in 2011. The devil on my shoulder says that he's not sure Florida played as well as it can last night (Kenny Boynton only had six points and missed all his three-point attempts, Erik Murphy only played 17 minutes, and Mike Rosario only had 11), and that this has the makings of UNC 2011 Redux.
The awards, then:
Jae Crowder Player of the Year of the Game: Vander Blue gets the Crowder today, not because he was 8-14 from the field, not because he managed 20 of Marquette's 49 points, not because his jumper looked good against really good competition, not because he played big minutes on what appears to be a slightly gimpy knee, but because he was the only cat who didn't blink when he saw the Gators' teeth.
Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: Derrick Wilson again filled in capably when Cadougan scuffled badly: six points, a couple of assists, a couple of rebounds, a couple of steals, and just one turnover in 22 solid minutes.
Davante "Big Smoove" Gardner Smoove Play of the Game: Noooope.
Up Next: It's BADGER HATE WEEK (if anybody's got the stomach for it), followed by a date with the wretched Rodents at the BMO Harris Bradley Center next Saturday.