It’s February 14th today. YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles men’s basketball team sits at 14-11 overall and 5-8 in Big East play after losing five of their last six games.
Their hopes of making the NCAA tournament at this juncture seem to be, in a word, slim. I’ve said all season that 11-7 in Big East play would make any team a guaranteed lock to make the tournament, but that fork in the road is behind us now. 10-8 is likely to be good enough for an at-large bid, regardless of what does or does not happen in the Big East tournament, but to reach that mark, it would require the Golden Eagles to go from losing five of six to winning five straight. While possible, it seems unlikely at this point, regardless of who the opponents in front of them are.
Let’s try to be optimistic about the whole venture, though. I think that there is a possibility that 9-9 could be good enough for an NCAA tournament at-large bid, depending on what happens elsewhere around the bubble. As long as a few teams drop back and there aren’t a lot of bid thieves in the conference tournaments, then 9-9 has a chance. It would almost assuredly mean a guaranteed spot in the First Four in Dayton, but hey, a bid is a bid is a bid.
There’s also a chance that 9-9 isn’t good enough. Too many other bubble teams go on a run late, St. John’s wins the Big East tournament, Utah wins the Pac-12 tournament, and all of a sudden Marquette finds themselves as the seventh or eighth team out and a top two seed in the NIT.
That brings us to the question alluded to in the headline at the top of the page.
Would you rather see Marquette lose in the First Four in Dayton or make a run to the NIT semifinals?
THE PROS AND CONS OF LOSING IN DAYTON
As mentioned a second ago, being included in the First Four counts as an NCAA tournament appearance. When people discuss the history of Marquette in the tournament in 50 years, they would see a “2018” on the list of appearances, and no one would blink twice as to how it happened.
It would also be head coach Steve Wojciechowski’s second straight NCAA tournament appearance. You would have to figure that a second straight bid would at least temper the attitude of the crazy people who scream “FIRE WOJO” at the AE Twitter account on a semi-regular basis (it’s a Twitter account, not a billionaire with money to spend on buyouts, people), and more than that it would again seem, like it did last year, to indicate Wojo’s willingness to change everything he knows when the season is on the line.
That’s the upside, and since we’re talking about losing in the First Four, that’s it for upside.
The downsides are quite obvious: It means that the season ends just two or three days after Selection Sunday. No continued tournament run, not even the fun of making it to Thursday or Friday. A quiet exit, late at night on TruTV, without much of an audience watching. The team would essentially find out that they were in on Sunday night and then leave for Dayton at some point on Monday, and then be back on campus by the time that the average American thinks that the NCAA tournament tips off mid-day on Thursday. Andrew Rowsey’s college career is over, and the offseason begins. Specifically, that means that Marquette shifts into the limited interaction time between coaches and the full team in terms of practice and training that applies to the summer.
THE PROS AND CONS OF GETTING TO THE NIT SEMIFINALS
Quite simply: The upside to making a run in the NIT means more experience for this Marquette team.
Yes, I know, it’s a little bit silly for Wojo to make excuses for his team after 20+ games about how young they are. However, the fact does remain that this team is depending on three freshmen to know how to play defense without making a mistake, not to mention relying on two sophomores that had less than 200 minutes played in college coming into the season. Every minute that they play, they gain experience and an understanding as to how things work at this level.
Making it to Madison Square Garden for the NIT semifinals would mean four extra games of experience for a roster that, with the exception of Rowsey, are all expected to return next season. Teams get better when they play together more. Four extra games of experience could be incredibly valuable for next season, when Marquette will add Joey Hauser and Ed Morrow to the active roster.
There’s another reason why I’m saying just the NIT semifinals and not the NIT title game or even an NIT championship. The NIT final four is played just like the NCAA Final Four: game, day off, game. That’s not the important part for this team, because those extra two days of a season are not the point here.
The extra practice that they get to have heading to the semifinals is important.
Last year, the NIT announced their bracket on Monday, March 13. TCU, last year’s NIT champion, played games on March 15, March 19, March 21, and then the semifinals on March 28. That’s 15 days from announcement to semifinals, which means two extra weeks of practice. If you really hate hearing Wojo talk about the team being young, then you would have to think that getting two extra weeks of practice this season would be incredibly effective at eliminating any youthful mistakes from the squad heading into next year.
There’s also the benefit of the team finding out what it takes to win in a “win or go home” situation. Survive and advance, as it’s called on occasion. There’s a story about the Edmonton Oilers from the 1982-83 season that heard from Jeff Marek on the now since departed Marek vs Wyshynski podcast. It was the team’s fourth season in the NHL, and they had advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals, but got swept in four games by the New York Islanders. The Oilers were feeling pretty proud of what they had accomplished that season, and thought they had given everything they had. On their way out of the arena, they passed the celebratory Islanders locker room.... and it was just a car wreck of guys who actually had given everything they had to win a Stanley Cup. That was the Islanders’ fourth straight Cup, in fact, and the Oilers were suddenly struck by the notion that they had no idea what it really meant to fight to win. What happened after that? The Oilers won five of the next seven Stanley Cups.
Of course, past performance is never a guarantee nor an indicator of future results. But for the players to get an up close and personal understanding of the effort and discipline required to pull something like that off? The creation of the attitude needed to win like that? That could be invaluable for Marquette going forward.
Making the NIT semifinals also, y’know, might be kind of fun, and way more fun that going out quietly in Dayton. It’s not like watching a team win a few games in row on TV is ever a bad thing, right?
The drawback to the entire deal is that, well... it’s the NIT. Nothing against the competition, but it’s just not the NCAA tournament, is it? It goes down in the record books as a year that Marquette missed out on the national championship tournament. If that idea leaves a bad taste in your mouth, well, you’re not wrong to think that. It’s fairly reasonable to consider the baseline for success at Marquette to be “make the NCAA tournament every year” at this point. Will there be wobbles along the way? Sure, every so often. One year after making it back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013? Not the best time for a wobble. Understandable and explainable, perhaps — Marquette was picked to finish seventh in the Big East, remember — but very poorly timed.
So I turn it over to you. Which would you rather see: A loss in Dayton or a trip to the NIT semifinals in Madison Square Garden?
Explain yourself in the comments, and remember: there are no wrong answers.
Which postseason result would you prefer for Marquette men’s basketball?
This poll is closed
Lose in the First Four in Dayton
Get to the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden