Thanks to Rubie Q for doing his thing yesterday. Of course "his thing" is kindly pointing out all the things that went awry for the Marquette Golden Eagles this past season, and thoroughly pissing me off. But he's not wrong, there were definitely some pretty low moments this year. But I choose to take a rosier outlook on things, and focus on the positive. There was plenty of positive to hang our hats on this season, and I will have words with any man who says otherwise. So join me in taking a look at the brighter side of life, as we take a look at the 2009-2010 high points.
10) Marquette opens eyes in the first two rounds of the Old Spice Classic.
The Old Spice Classic was going to be the season's first test for the ‘09-‘10 Golden Eagles. Sure, beating up on Centenary and South Dakota is all good fun, but this tournament would be a real indication of where the team stood. In two games that most unbiased observers (and even a lot of biased ones) would not have expected MU to win, they not only won but won convincingly. In the opener, they rode 27 points from Lazar Hayward to roll Xavier, a team coming off a Sweet 16 run, 71-61. Next they got #15 Michigan. We have since learned that the Wolverines were a complete disaster, but at the time they were supposed to be contenders. The Golden Eagles gave U of M a healthy dose of the back of their hand, in a 79-65 romp. That gave most of us the first inkling that this team might be better than we had first thought.
9) Marquette hangs on to beat #12 Georgetown.
After having two highly ranked programs on the ropes in their first two Big East games, only to have their hearts ripped out by dagger shots (and some untimely free throw yips), MU finally seals the deal. Not that they didn't give G'Town their chance, but Austin Freeman's late drive and Chris Wright's last second heave both went begging and MU got off the Big East schnide. David Cubillan played the game of his career, scoring 18 points on 6 of 6 shooting from three-point land. This was the signature win for Marquette for most of the season, and was an important morale boost during the gauntlet that was the early part of the Big East schedule.
8) Vander Blue commits to Marquette.
"Merry ******** Christmas! Vander Blue signs with Marquette!" This was a text I received on the evening of October 18, 2009. I couldn't have been happier. The Blue commitment not only meant that we had a 5-star, in-state recruit coming in next year, but it had the added benefit of ripping a potential stud player away from the evil Red Empire in Madison. There's nothing like the chance to rub salt in the wounds of your mortal enemy while simultaneously providing a major boost to your own program. I know that Badger fans will say this doesn't matter to them, and he has issues or couldn't cut there academically, but this is all B.S. I will use as Exhibit A the cascade of boos that Vander will undoubtedly hear when he takes the court at the Kohl Center in December of 2011. I love it!
More warm and fuzzies after the jump
7) Cardiac ‘Quette wins 3 straight conference road games... in OT.
The 2009-2010 season will be remembered for a lot of things, but nothing more so than the seemingly unending string of nail-biter finishes. The best illustration of that is the @Cincinnati, @Seton Hall, @St. John's road swing. When the schedule first came out, people were circling that 3 game swing as one that could loom large if MU was able to survive the early part of their schedule with any real aspirations of making the NCAA Tournament. As it played out, that's exactly what happened. The first game, at UC, was being viewed as a de facto play-in game. The loser of that game was going to have an awfully tough row to hoe to get back in the Big Dance discussion. In one of the most maddening games I've ever watched, Lazar Hayward shook off a horrible shooting day and buried a 3 to tie the game, and then hit another one in overtime to put MU up to stay. As we exited the arena, Cincy fans said "good luck in the tournament." It felt awesome, but we knew we weren't there yet. Similarly gut-wrenching victories followed at Seton Hall and St. John's. They may have caused their fans to start taking blood pressure medication prematurely, but Marquette emerged unscathed and everyone was beginning to see the Tournament light at the end of the tunnel.
6) Marquette avenges early season losses to Villanova in the Big East Tournament.
After the two heart-breakers that the Wildcats had served MU in January, this one felt pretty damn sweet. The Golden Eagles dealt Nova some sweet revenge at Madison Square Garden, 80-76. Darius Johnson-Odom blew up for a career-high 24 points. Lazar put up 20 points, including yet another "onions" 3 pointer - stroking one from NBA range with under 2 minutes to play. MU made its free throws the rest of the way and advanced to the Big East Semifinals.
5) Jeronne Maymon takes his ball and goes to Knoxville.
On December 12, 2009, Marquette loses to Wisconsin in the People's Republic. The Maymon family is on hand, TIMMAY! is rocking his MU gear, giving the bird to UW students, and everyone is looking fired up for this one. Everyone that is, except Jeronne. Jeronne seems a bit out of sorts. He's hanging his head, not looking particularly enthusiastic about mixing it up with Jon Leuer and Co. On December 14, 2009 the reason for that is revealed as Jeronne announces that he's leaving the program. I believe that Maymon's exit was addition by subtraction. A guy that was more concerned about getting his than he was about doing what was necessary to help the team was going to do more harm than good. The team wasn't good enough to have a malcontent causing turmoil in the locker room. The coaching staff couldn't be worrying about doing things to get a kid the ball where and when he thought he should be getting it. Instead they needed to find ways to get the ball to their senior leader/best player who just happened to be averaging about 20 and 10. The game after Maymon's departure, Joe Fulce went out and put up 13 points and 10 boards - both career highs. No one has looked back since.
4) Jimmy Butler sinks #19 Connecticut.
The crater left by the loss at DePaul was still smoldering when Marquette headed out Hartford to take on UConn. There was no way we'd be able to dig ourselves out of this hole. Our fleeting visions of the NCAA Tourney were torpedoed by some guy whose name I can't even remember. Cue Jimmy Butler. In a tie game, with momentum taking up residence on the UConn bench, and Lazar Hayward done for the day with 5 fouls, Jimmy took the ball on a broken play, dribbled right and drilled a fade away jumper with 2.8 seconds remaining. Suddenly, the project of rebuilding after the DePaul Catastrophe didn't seem quite as impossible. Perhaps, there was still a chance.
3) The Marquette Golden Eagles hear their name called on Selection Sunday
All the sweat, the yelling, the swearing, the nervous drinking, it all culminated on that special Sunday in March. Against all odds the ‘09-‘10 Marquette Golden Eagles had officially made the NCAA Tournament. Not only had they made the Tournament, but they had gotten a pretty favorable draw. A procedural matter appeared to have bumped them up to a 6 seed, with a potential match-up with 3 seed New Mexico looming in the 2nd round. "All we gotta do is get by Washington and we could be looking at an Elite 8 run!" The outlook was good that day.
2) Lazar Hayward becomes the #2 all-time leading scorer at Marquette
If you've stuck with me through this whole thing, you've probably noticed one name mentioned in nearly every moment we've come up with. One of the most enjoyable things about this season was watching Lazar Hayward play. He did everything a program could ask of a senior. He was a superstar on the floor, he took and made big shots in crucial situations, rebounded, defended and was the unquestioned leader of the team. I think the way ‘Zar took ownership of this team, after the departures of James, Matthews and McNeal, was one of the most impressive things that he did. He not only leaves as the 2nd leading scorer in school history, but he's also the 5th leading rebounder. I think we can all agree that it has been an awesome treat to watch Lazar play these past 4 years. Thanks, ‘Zar.
1) Marquette dumptrucks Louisville 69-48.
The high point of the season came when Louisville visited the Bradley Center on March 2nd, and got a guided tour of the area behind the woodshed. This game had everything a Marquette fan could ask for. Most importantly, this win locked up an NCAA Tournament berth. After this one, even the most skeptical of fans couldn't come up with a scenario that kept MU out of the Big Dance. Secondly, there was the joy of totally destroying a hated rival. The 2005 debacle was at least partially avenged on this night. Then there was Buzz Williams' making one of the worst wardrobe choices at Marquette since Rick Majerus was an assistant, but making it totally worth it with his now famous celebratory "dance".
And last but not least, an exclamation point. (Exclamation point comes around the 2:00 mark, but the entire package is worth a watch if you're bored)
After the game, there was a happiness emanating from the arena that can't be described. You couldn't punch the smiles off everyone's faces. People were making excuses to have one more celebratory cocktail. It was awesome. We had done it.