Marquette Madness fired the second stage booster on the start of the college basketball season last night, and it was what it always is: a perfectly respectable event to get people fired up for basketball.
I want to make this clear: I'm not hating on Madness. I'm sure for people who aren't that in tune with what's going on in the men's or women's basketball programs, it was a lot more fun. If you didn't watch the four men's games in Europe, you probably got a lot more out of Madness than I was ever going to get out of it.
Here's what Madness is every year: The women's team gets introduced to largely little fanfare, they have a largely underappreciated scrimmage for about 10 minutes, there's a contest, the men's team gets introduced to a much larger fanfare, they play a scrimmage for about 15 minutes, there's a contest, and then there's the dunk contest, which is variable by success rate.
Now, some of all of that is variable from year to year by the existing excitement from last season for both teams. In both cases, there's essentially none. Both teams are undergoing a massive roster overhaul since the end of 2014-15, so there's very little continuity with the players involved. On top of that, both teams were really bad last year, the women more so than the men. Any excitement about the upcoming season is completely potential for what they can do, not residual kinetic energy from how last year ended.
With all of that said, there were a few things that stood out to me on the night.
- Olivia Moskari might be a high quality shooter for Carolyn Kieger this season. I say might, because after she hit two triples in a row in the first half of the women's scrimmage, I don't think she attempted another one. But the two that she buried were are pure as the falling snow in her native home of Finland.
- Getting quality recruits is always an important thing for a college basketball coach, and that goes double for getting them locally. Local press likes talking about local kids making it big, and when it's for a local college team on top of that, it's a double whammy of coverage. So there's an obvious benefit to Carolyn Kieger getting three top 150 recruits from in Wisconsin, with the two best ones - Amani Wilborn and Allazia Blockton - coming from Milwaukee area schools. The hidden benefit to this, though, is crowd support. Blockton, Wilborn, and Natisha Hiedeman, who hails from Green Bay, all got major ovations when they were introduced at Madness, and that repeated itself when they made even a solid play during the scrimmage. Maybe all of the family and friends that were in attendance on Friday night won't make it to every home game, but I'm guessing they have more of both that weren't in attendance as well. Strong crowd support for three local players = strong support for the team = a bigger home court advantage for Kieger, which is never a bad thing.
- It doesn't hurt that Blockton, Hiedeman, and Wilborn might be the three best players on the team right now, along with Michigan native Erika Davenport. The first three were incredibly active out on the court, hustling for loose balls, making attempts on steals, always looking to take it to the rack. Davenport wasn't featured as a ball handler for her team, but she was dominant on the inside, and moves incredibly fluidly for a post-oriented player. This shouldn't be much of a surprise given that she came up as a guard and merely grew into her height, but it is welcome to see.
- Coach Kieger hit a half-courter to win free textbooks for a year for a student after he missed on two attempts. Nicely done, Coach!
- Wally Ellenson might be the most electrifying player on the men's team. We didn't see much of him in Europe, and that is what it is. But Wally was all over the place in the two scrimmages that the men's team put on, including a putback dunk from waaaaaay out on the wing, and a nutty LeBron-esque run down pin block on defense. He's got a nose for every rebound, and without official stats, I wouldn't be surprised to see that he led all players in rebounds, because he just kept coming up with the ball. Simply put: It's not the worst thing in the world to have an Olympic-caliber high jumper as your glue guy.
- Speaking of Wally, he joined Traci Carter, Duane Wilson, Sandy Cohen, and Henry Ellenson for the first men's team scrimmage, as Luke Fischer was held out after getting elbowed in the head during practice on Thursday. Wally's teammates were the four non-Fischer starters for the entire Europe trip, so we have two possible conclusions to draw here. 1) Wally's the super-sub or 2) moving Wally to that team created the best balance between the two teams.
- If you wanted proof that Henry Ellenson is definitely not a center, you got it last night. He was slid down to the five due to Fischer's absence and was either A) non-existent on the post or B) Swallowed up by Matt Heldt on defense. With that said, when he got in the open court: Great. When he was on the perimeter: Great, including a snazzy step back long two and a shiny looking three-pointer.
- I didn't see anything particularly great from Haanif Cheatham in my first time watching him play with his college teammates.
- I did, however, see a lot of great stuff from Andrew Rowsey. He can pour it in from long distance, as advertised. He's also quite adept at taking it in amongst the trees and still getting his shot off through a little bit of acrobatics, even though he's the smallest guy on the team at 5'10". He's not going to play this year as he sits out due to transferring from UNC-Asheville, but it's very obvious how he managed to score over 1,200 points in just two seasons with the Bulldogs. REMINDER: Rowsey is going start next season as the MU player with the most collegiate points scored regardless of what happens this season. No one can catch him.
- There was a change in refereeing between the men's and women's scrimmages. The women never shot free throws on fouls, merely restarted out of bounds, and they just kept playing the whole time. Meanwhile, in the men's action, they shot free throws and took timeouts for strategy. Free throws and timeouts during what is supposed to be a high energy event is just death to a crowd, and that was evidenced by people starting to bail on the night in between the two men's team scrimmages. The Al McGuire Center appeared to be near capacity at the start of the night, but the corners of the upper deck were very, very empty by the time the dunk contest wrapped up.
- I don't have much to say about the dunk contest, other than I was surprised to see Wally Ellenson end up not winning. He had the most spectacular dunk planned, I think, but he wasn't able to complete it and ended up losing the title to his brother, Henry. My favorite dunk of the night was Sandy Cohen getting assistance from a tiny human, who then danced with him afterwards. Sadly, this highlight video is from a camera that's positioned right behind Cohen and you don't get to see the tiny dude dancing.
What caught your attention during Madness? Pipe up in the comments....