"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Monday, February 28, 2005

The Challenge Facing Jumpin' Jesuits

Here's an interesting article in USA Today about the challenges facing Jesuit universities that want to compete at an elite level in college hoops. Clearly the greatest impediment is money, where Jesuit institutions, without the benefit of state funding, rely nearly exclusively on alumni participation and men's basketball to fund the rest of the athletic program.

The article discusses the specifics of many Jesuit institutions, and here's what it says about MU: "Marquette, in Milwaukee, has an enrollment of 7,242 and athletic revenue of nearly $15.2 million. The Golden Eagles have challenged the University of Wisconsin, with its 28,583 students and $58.1 million in athletic revenue."

Certainly the athletic revenue numbers are a bit misleading, as MU does not have football, yet it brings into focus the importance of scheduling and alumni participation. Jumpin' Jesuit programs have a baseline of home games required to make ends meet for the athletic department-- for Marquette that number is apparently 16 (or so; correct me if I am wrong). Moreover, increased alumni support for athletic endowments are a critical factor in keeping top quality coaches and facilities on campus.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Some encouraging news at a discouraging time

Many Marquette fans have given up on this season, and one couldn't totally blame them, as Travis Diener is out for the year. But based on the hustle and determination with which the Marquette team played last night, it appears that the team itself has not given up. And as a Marquette fan, that is extremely encouraging.

Down nearly 30 and being physically dominated last night, the MU team could have given up. Instead, they made a nice comeback, cutting the lead to 7 points with under 2 minutes to play. The team ended up losing by 12, but it was wonderful to see an undermanned team come back and be competitive in a hostile environment like the Shoemaker Center.

Steve Novak's 25 points stand out first and foremost. After airballing a three in the first half and hearing about it from the fans the rest of the game, Steve was on fire near the end of the game. In fact, Novak has now reached 974 career points, placing him within clear striking range of the 1000-point mark by season's end.

Also of note was the aggressive offensive plays of Dameon Mason and Joe Chapman, who scored 17 and 13 respectively. This is encouraging news when one looks at Marquette's chance at an NIT berth this year, and the need for other leaders to step up next season. Maybe this time sans Diener will actually help make better leaders of the veterans we will need to rely on next season.

By the way, here's an extraordinary column by John Feinstein about Travis Diener from today's Washington Post. Its worth the free registration.

MU falls to UC

As expected, sans Travis Diener the Warriors fell last night to Cincinnati, 80-68. Cincinnati was predictably tough around the basket where Hicks and Maxiell combined for 31 points and 19 rebounds. MU displayed considerable gumption throughout, closing the gap late. Interestingly, MU out rebounded UC overall and claimed 18 offensive rebounds while turning the ball over only 13 times. In fact, freshman walk-on Brian Hanley played 11 solid minutes and committed no turnovers. Steve Novak led MU with 25 points, while Dameon Mason delivered 17 points and eight rebounds.

MU closes the season with a pair of home games, Houston and St. Louis.

Here are the recaps:
ESPN Box Score
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
Cincinnati Enquirer

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Thompson & Raymonds comment on Diener's fate

Brute Force was reduced to a fragile emotional shell of himself on Wednesday when the topic of Travis Diener's career ending injury came up. A tough blow to MU's all-time leading scorer who expected to relinquish that spot to Travis Diener over the course of the next few weeks. Former MU coach Hank Raymonds also commented on the devestating injury to MU

Read Michael Hunt's piece,"By George, Thompson Was Pulling for Diener"

Dick Vitale talks about Travis Diener

Though I'm not much of a Dick Vitale fan because he overhypes certain programs too much, the man is a geniunely good guy and loves the game almost to a fault. You can sense that in his remarks about Travis today.

Dick Vitale weighs in on Travis Diener and his value to Marquette and college basketball.

Travis Diener Out For Season

Mike DeCourcy gets the story first......."Diener's senior season ended when he broke two fingers on his left hand in a freak accident during a routine, non-contact drill early in Tuesday's practice."

What. A. Damn. Shame. This was no way to end a remarkable collegiate career. This guy embodied the the excellence and heritage of this program as few were able to do.

Travis was a stunning player for Tom Crean's Wariors, a remarkable competitor who embodied all you could expect from a collegiate athlete. Here's to a speedy recovery, Travis. And thanks for the thrills during your run at MU!

Dodds on Sports' MarquetteHoops site has a terrific recap of Diener's career and the press conference here.

Here's the updated article from Rosiak at the Journal-Sentinel.

Travis Diener: Is he out for the season?

Rumors began spreading about a potential injury to Travis Diener yesterday afternoon, and it appears there may be some substance to these after all. Tom Crean has called a 1pm CT press conference to discuss the situation further.

The message boards are humming with speculation on the alleged injury. We'll know more just after 1pm CT.

Road Trip

Marquette's last road game of the season will be this Thursday night when the Warriors travel to Cincinnati to take on Bob Huggins' Bearcats. MU and Cincy have emerged as genuine rivals during this last decade of both Great Midwest and Conference USA action. This year's Cincy team included the usual mix of veterans and new JUCO-talent, including point guard Jihad Muhammad. Muhammad has struggled of late, and owns an assist/turnover ratio of roughly 1:1. In the past, Cincinnati point guards like Steve Logan, Darnell Burton, and Nick Van Exel have given MU fits, but Muhammad is clearly not in their class, which gives MU a small advantage on the road. Realize that MU's three-point field goal percentage defense has improved dramatically in the last six games as well, also a good sign against a team that makes roughly 35% of their three-point attempts (averaging out to about six per game).

While MU matches up well with Muhammad and his backcourt mates, Cincy's troika of wing and post players (Maxiell, Hicks and Kirkland) all pose tremendous matchup problems for MU (particularly the muscular Hicks). As Preacher Purl said to Coach Dale in Hoosiers, "Tell me, do you believe in zone defense or man to man?" Judging by MU's increased use of the zone in the last few outings, Tom Crean has gotten religion.

Clearly, road wins are tough in this league, so its time to offer a bit of Al McGuire Victory Karma into the mix well in advance of tip off.

Monday, February 21, 2005

More Diener Time

Travis Diener is still working up the Marquette all-time scorers' list, but having scored 9 and 15 points versus Louisville and DePaul respectively, he is making those who hope he gets the record sweat it out a bit. Travis passed Director of Basketball Operations and former MU star, Brian Wardle, in the closing seconds against DePaul.

1) George Thompson 1773 points (3 years)
2) Butch Lee 1735 points
3) Travis Diener 1691 points
4) Brian Wardle 1690 points
5) Tony Smith 1688 points
6) Bo Ellis 1663 points
7) Damon Key 1647 points
8) Dean Meminger 1637 points
9) Trevor Powell 1571 points
10) Don Kojis 1504 points (3 years)

Travis has 3 regular season games left: at Cincinnati, home against Houston and home against Saint Loius. He also has at least one game left in the Conference USA Tournament. Travis also should have at least one additional game in the NIT or NCAA Tournament, as Marquette has 17 wins against D1 opponents at this point in time.

So, with 83 points standing between Diener and George Thompson, Travis will need to average 16.6 ppg if he only plays in those (seemingly) guaranteed 5 games. Of course, the better Marquette does, the more points Diener will rack up, and presumably, the more games Diener will have to pass Thompson.

One interesting point of note... Travis is poised in his next game to become the first Marquette player in 27 years to post 1700 points-- a feat certainly worth noting in this national program.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Our Diener is Better Than Yours

Travis Diener poured in 15 points and handed out seven assists while Steve Novak continued his string of strong performances with 22 points to pace Marquette to a 67-57 win over DePaul. MU closed the game strong, outscoring DePaul 13-6 in the final 6:11. Todd Townsend continued his renaissance, playing 33 strong minutes while shutting down DePaul's Quemont Greer in the second half (holding him to just two points after the break). The win gives Travis' Warriors a decisive 6-2 edge over cousin Drake's Blue Demons - - braggin' rights sit with Travis for the duration.

Incredibly, MU won despite giving up 16 offensive rebounds to the Blue Demons, and turning the ball over five more times than DePaul. MU made up for these shortcomings by shooting an admirable 51% from the field, including 47% from 3-point territory. Most importantly, MU held the Blue Demons to just 38% shooting and Greer was a non-factor in crunch time.

The win lifts MU to 18-8 on the season, and 6-7 in conference play. With three games to go, MU still controls its own fate this season. Today's victory gives MU a late-season quality win, and with both Cincinnati and Houston on the schedule - - Crean's squad has a chance to secure two more top 100 RPI wins. First things first - - winning on the road against the Bearcats later this week. Road wins late in the year - - always a good decision. Brilliant!

Here's a link to the Journal-Sentinel's post-game audio recap.

Old-Time Warriors Karma Is Required Today

Marquette takes on rival DePaul today, hoping to secure a much-needed quality win late in the season. With Earl Tatum in the house, karma is properly aligned for the Warriors.

This game has a few interesting storylines. Initially, this game marks the final meeting between cousins Drake and Travis Diener. The two exchanged pleasantries in this morning's Chicago Tribune, with Travis referring to Drake by saying, "hopefully, he has a bad game." Not to be outdone, Drake offered, "if he had zero points and we won, that would be the best game for me." Coming into today's tilt, Travis' Warriors have a 5-2 advantage in this series within a series.

Both squads are fighting for an at-large birth in the NCAA Tournament, with DePaul firmly planted among the field of 64 at this point. MU lacks what DePaul has - - a quality win against one of the conference's better teams (the Demons beat Cincinnati). DePaul stands at 8-3 in conference play after losing at Charlotte earlier this week. With a record of 0-7 against the teams leading C-USA, this afternoon's game is one of MU's last opportunities to get off the schneid. Controlling surging senior Quemont Greer will be key for MU - - he's a brutal matchup for the Warriors, perhaps the zone that was used so effectively against Louisville will be an asset today as well.

Of course, MU also has a little bit of Earl Tatum magic to count on today - - MU will need it after the heartbreaking defeat to Louisville earlier in the week. MU squandered a golden opportunity then, but can somewhat make up for it today. Crean will have to shuffle the rotation of his big men today, Chris Grimm is out for a few weeks with a broken elbow. In the last game with DePaul, the Blue Demons' unproductive bigmen (Thompson and Brumfeld) combined for 27 points and 12 rebounds -- their combined season averages are eight and eight. Moreover, DePaul secured 19 offensive rebounds against MU. Marcus Jackson, Ousmane Barro, Mike Kinsella and Todd Townsend - - it is time for redemption. Moreover, its time to extend DePaul's road woes; according to the Daily Herald the Blue Demons are just 3-4 away from Allstate Arena since mid-December.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Congratulations to Earl Tatum

In another long overdue ceremony to acknowledge this program's fine heritage, Marquette finally will retire Earl Tatum's #43 on Sunday when the Warriors take on DePaul.

Earl was one of MU's elite players during a decade when Marquette dominated college basketball as few programs ever have. In fact, MU's winning percentage for the 1970s is the third best in the history of NCAA basketball, second best in the decade itself. Tatum was part of four NCAA tournament teams, including the team that made it all the way to the 1974 National Championship game. A second-team All-American as a senior, Tatum went onto a four-year career in the NBA.

Congrats, Earl.

Another Classic Battle

Marquette and Louisville have given college hoops fans several terrific finishes in the last decade, and last night was no exception. Of course, classic battles are easier to take if your team wins. Unfortunately for Marquette fans, the Warriors squandered an 11 point lead in the last 5:41 en route to a 64-61 defeat at the hands of the Louisville Cardinals. Incredibly, MU only made one field goal in the last 9+ minutes and was a disappointing 61% from the free throw line.

Looking back to the last three games, MU lost two of them in the closing seconds and won one at the buzzer. In both losses, TCU and Louisville, MU held a substantial lead late in the game -- making the losses sting even more. One would expect MU to be stronger late in games with veterans like Diener, Novak, Chapman and Townsend on the court.

Regardless, with four games left, MU likely has to win out to have any shot at the NCAA tournament, and even that might not be enough. It feels like this team is so close to breaking through, but again, any positive momentum was disrupted by poor play down the stretch (see Arizona, Charlotte, TCU). Here's hoping Crean's guys are geared up and ready to go for this weekend's tilt with DePaul. Its time to excorcise the Blue Demons and close this season strong.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

And down the stretch they come.....

Marquette's 'season within a season' begins tonight when Tom Crean's troops host the nationally-ranked Louisville Cardinals at the Bradley Center. MU stands at 17-7, coming off a clutch overtime victory over ECU on the road. Marquette is seeking to avenge an historic 47-point defeat at the hands of the Cardinals just weeks ago - - a game where Travis Diener did not play, and the Cards took full advantage.

Ville's Larry O'Bannon expects a dog fight tonight, largely based on Diener's return. ""Diener leads the conference in scoring and assists. He's scoring 21 points, and with seven assists a game he's producing 14 more points, at least. That's 35 points. That's a big chunk of the 47 we beat them by. And he's their leader. He makes everybody better."

Keep in mind that Diener's absence was not the only strike against MU in that last outing. At the time, MU was still in the throes of a flu pandemic that ripped through the team, sapping energy from no fewer than four other key players in advance of the last Ville tilt (Jackson, Townsend, Chapman and Novak). MU is healthier than its been in more than a month, and one has to think the practices this week were much more competitive than they've been in weeks. With Diener in the lineup, Steve Novak instantly becomes a matchup problem for Louisville, and Dameon Mason could have more room to operate as a wing player. I'm a bit concerned about MU's rebounding -- Ville collected roughly a dozen offensive rebounds against the Warriors in their last meeting. Ousmane Barro's effectiveness (and PT) have declined of late, perhaps he'll re-emerge tonight.

All of this bodes well for MU as they take the floor tonight against a team that Tom Crean has dominated since becoming head coach. In fact, Rick Pitino is a mere 2-7 lifetime against Marquette - - somehow MU finds a way to win against Louisville more often than not.

A win tonight would propel MU back into the thick of NCAA tournament contention. As we've said before -- with four of their last five games at home, and with a healthy Travis Diener, the at-large bid is there for the taking.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


A few audio blasts from the past as MU beats Louisville on last second shots.

Turn up the volume!

Thanks Homer....love your calls! Click below to hear them ( a little slow downloading )

Clip 1: 1996 Aaron Hutchins for THREE to beat Louisville in overtime.

Clip 2: 1998 Brian Wardle for the winning shot at the buzzer against Louisville

Monday, February 14, 2005

Here's an interesting perspective on the Louisville game

"Inside the 'Ville," Scout.com's Louisville site, has a message board that seems to be populated with some smart basketball fans.

Here's an interesting perspective--at least for MU fans still smarting from the 47 point loss the Cards pinned on Marquette last time out.

UofL fans are worried about this game. Take a look at the lead comment in one thread, that asks what Louisville has to do win the rematch this week:

Wif Deiner back, I expect it to be a very hard game to win. Given it's at their place, they are on outside looking in w/ the NCAA and we beat them by 50 last time. Nothing in our favor this game. So, what does UL need to do to win?

This is a rather interesting perspective, and one unexpected from fans of a team that gave us such a drubbing last time out.

It's Do or Die Time for Marquette

It's basically "do or die time" for Marquette. Currently at 5-6 in conference, Marquette has two home games next up on the slate, against the #1 and #2 teams in the conference-- Louisville and DePaul. If Marquette somehow wins both of those games, it will move to 7-6 and will position itself in a great spot for NCAA Tournament consideration. If MU splits the games, it will likely need to win at Cincy (ouch!) or make a big run in the CUSA tournament. If MU loses to both Louisville and DePaul, winning the CUSA tournament appears to be the only way to the NCAA's.

It's a tough draw this week, but at least Marquette's future is essentially in its own hands. Four of the final five games are at home, as after a Cincy road game, Marquette hosts beatable Houston and SLU. Presumably, MU will need either a 9-7 record or a CUSA tournament run or both to make the tournament.

I still think a 9-7 conference record may do it. Marquette's RPI will be within striking range for Selection Sunday (right around 50), and they would have 21 wins. Another win in the CUSA tournament would probably seal the deal, unless too many mid-major upsets occurred.

Ultimately, as improbable as the NCAA Tournament appears at this point, if Marquette is healthy and playing well, it is capable of beating any conference opponent at home. It all begins with a win... and Louisville is up next... (gulp)!

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Point to the Top

Point guard Travis Diener has had a phenomenal career for Marquette University securing himself as one of best players in the history of the storied program. Tonight's 31 point performance moved "Spike" into the top 5 all-time Marquette scoring list surpassing Dean Meminger, Damon Key and assistant coach Bo Ellis. Diener now has 1667 career points and needs 1774 to pass #1 George Thompson on the all-time list. Diener has five regular season games to play plus one in the Conference USA tournament.

Right now, one would have to believe Diener is not looking out for any scoring records and would like nothing more than to earn a third trip to the NCAA tournament to close out his career.

Marquette All-Time Scorers Top Ten

1) George Thompson 1773 points (3 years)
2) Butch Lee 1735 points
3) Brian Wardle 1690 points
4) Tony Smith 1688 points
5) Travis Diener 1667 points
6) Bo Ellis 1663 points
7) Damon Key 1647 points
8) Dean Meminger 1637 points
9) Trevor Powell 1571 points
10) Don Kojis 1504 points (3 years)

Diener Crushes the "Carolina Curse"

It wasn't easy by any stretch, but Marquette found a way to battle back from 7 points down late in the game and force overtime on a Steve Novak 3 pointer with 3 seconds left against East Carolina. In the extra period, senior Travis Diener hit a baseline jumper with 2.6 seconds to win the game for Marquette 71-69. It was only MU's third victory in the state of North Carolina in the history of the program ( see Carolina Curse).

For a complete wrap-up of tonight's game, read Todd Rosiak's article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as Diener Buries Pirates Curse.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Can MU Crush the Carolina Curse?

Throughout Marquette's storied history there has been one state that has proved most hostile to the Warriors....the state of North Carolina. MU has had plenty of success against state teams outside their backyard, including capturing the national championship against the North Carolina Tarheels. Playing inside the Tarheel state has been quite a different matter. One might conclude nothing strange about a lack of success against the North Carolinas, the Dukes, the Wake Forests or the NC States of the world considering their basketball pedigree. Unfortunately it doesn't end there. MU has had trouble beating anyone with a Carolina zip code for decades inside the state. The Carolina Curse like the Bermuda Triangle...in SEARCH OF answers.

The Carolina Curse

Dec 14, 1964 loss at Wake Forest 62-95
Mar 23, 1974 win vs #6 Kansas 64-51 (NCAA Tournament in Greensboro)
Mar 25, 1975 loss vs #1 NC State 64-76 (NCAA Tournament in Greensboro)
Jan 28, 1979 loss at #7 Duke 64-69
Jan 31, 1981 loss at #6 Wake Forest 60-83
Feb 17, 1981 loss at Charlotte 58-61
Feb 6, 1983 loss at Wake Forest 65-78
Feb 15, 1987 loss at #3 North Carolina 74-83
Feb 4, 1989 loss at Wake Forest 67-70
Nov 14, 1990 loss at #6 Duke 74-87
Jan 21, 1991 loss at North Carolina State 76-89
Jan 25, 1996 loss at Charlotte 69-79
Feb 15, 1997 loss at Charlotte 46-66
Mar 14, 1997 loss to Providence 59-81 (NCAA Tournament in Charlotte, NC)
Jan 13, 1998 loss at Charlotte 53-66
Jan 21, 1999 loss at Charlotte 61-67
Jan 29, 2000 loss at Charlotte 54-60
Jan 13, 2001 loss at #9 North Carolina 54-84
Mar 3, 2001 loss at Charlotte 62-85
Dec 29, 2001 loss at #25 Wake Forest 59-64
Jan 5, 2002 loss at Charlotte 68-76
Feb 26, 2002 loss at East Carolina 46-51
Dec 30, 2002 loss at East Carolina 70-73
Jan 18, 2003 win at Charlotte 67-64
Jan 20, 2004 loss at Charlotte 76-84

2-24 in the state of North Carolina!

Perhaps this is payback for beating three North Carolina teams on the way to the National Title in 1977.

Friday, February 11, 2005

The Optimists Creed

This week's edition of Sports Illustrated has a great feature on the Diener family - The First Family of Basketball in Wisconsin. It features heavily on current senior PG, Travis Diener of Marquette. Pick up a copy as it is a great read on the Diener family.

One portion of the story that struck me was that of The Optimists Creed adhered to by "Grandma Diener". Great words to live by:

Promise Yourself -- To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble. ---The Optimists Creed, 1922

An unfortunate new view of SLU

Having a friend in St. Louis and a free weekend, I decided to pack up my wife and a friend and take a road trip for the Marquette-SLU game the other week. The actual driving could not have been more boring. After Rockford, I believe the actual grade of the land must not have fluctuated once for about 5 hours. I have driven through Iowa before, and this part of Illinois is worse. We passed through Normal and Bloomington and Springfield and Atlanta... Atlanta? To pass the time, my buddy and I decided to look at an Atlas and see just how many names of towns Illinois has ripped off. A short list: Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Detroit, Omaha, Trenton, Camden, San Jose, El Paso, Paris, Rome, Cairo, Glasgow, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cornell, etc. etc. etc. Who thought it was a good idea to name a town El Paso, Illinois?

Another side note... Springfield, Illinois has by far the worst Taco Bell I have ever stepped foot in. We waited at least 25 minutes for our chalupas, burritos and gorditas, and the place wasn't even busy. It was also very dirty. If you happen to be driving through Springfield for some reason, please avoid the Taco Bell. There's a nice looking Cracker Barrell right across the street.

At any rate, we got down to Saint Louis, and had a really nice time. One highlight was a great microbrewery with an interesting (European-influenced) menu. Schlafley's is the name of the joint. I highly recommend it. Try the coffee stout-- excellent. We had a very nice time, and I really liked St. Louis.

The game was anything but great. Diener was out with a stress fracture, most of our players were deathly sick with the flu, and MU couldn't hit a shot to save itself... except Novak. Somehow, we came back and won in double OT, which was improbable, but a welcome outcome.

My biggest beef about the game was SLU's band. The band played the drums fairly loudly DURING game action. For example, when we were at the FT line, the drums drummed. When our shot clock was running down (which seemed to happen often, considering how inept we played), the drums drummed. In fact, the conductor actually conducted the drums to do so. I have never EVER seen this happen before, and I have to think this is a violation of Conference USA rules, or at the very least, bad sportsmanship.

In addition, during a timeout, the meager SLU student section pathetically chanted and pointed at our fearless leader with the stress facture. It was something along the lines of, "Hey, Diener, Hey Diener, YOU SUCK!" All I could think about was how much we would be ripping them apart if that sucky Diener was healthy and playing.

I used to really root for SLU. It is a Jesuit school very similar to Marquette. It is located in the middle of a city very similar to Milwaukee (Midwest middle-sized, beer town). Although it doesn't have nearly the basketball history Marquette does, it has had some good years in the past. Well, after reading the Billikens' message board bashing Marquette at every turn (they claim Marquette "betrayed" them by joining the Big East-- whatever), after seeing the unsportsmanlike conduct of the SLU band, and after listening to SLU's pathetic 63-person student section, I'm rethinking my silent fandom.

Bottom line is that we host SLU the last week of the season. This may be the last time we play in a few years. It will be Diener night... I mean Senior Night. I am really looking forward to that game. We will see just who it is that sucks then.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

A Confession: I didn't listen to the TCU game.

I missed last nights game.

Not because WISN wasn't working.

Not because I couldn't find the right bar with the right satellite dish.

I made plans to watch another game. A HS game.

Okay, so it was a girls HS basketball game. In my defense, the daughter's 8th grade team made plans to see this game as a group, so how could I say no?

But the highlight for an MU fan was that Terri Mitchell was in house (as George Thompson would say), so I figure there's some reasonable tie to Marquette. Besides, from what I've read, I probably wouldn't have been happy had I stayed home to listen to TCU.

The game was between Benet Academy--a top Catholic college prep in the Chicago suburbs, and a school that sends many of its grads to the likes of MU, Dayton, and SLU--and Whitney Young. Benet was ranked 11th in the state--Whitney Young #1 in the state, and #18 in the USA Today national poll.

I'd like to say that any HS game between the #1 and #11 teams would be a good match. And for about three minutes, it was.

Here's the big Benet highlight: They scored first and led the game 2-0. But they trailed by 16 at half, on the way to a 51-36 loss. Read all about it here, here, and here.

Who might Coach Mitchell been looking at? Two players stand out.

Amanda Thompson of Whitney Young is rated 54th overall nationally and only a Junior, and looked it. Not a flashy offensive player--she wasn't the leading scorer--but solid on defense, and made one basket that is probably still leaving everyone who was in the gym wondering how she did it. On transition, there was a pass ahead of Thompson--one of those "too bad, the PG passed the ball out of bounds" situations--pass to nobody on the block--Thompson was only at the elbow when the pass was made. Somehow, she sped up, caught the ball on the baseline, stayed in bounds, turned direction, crossed under the basket, and made a reverse layup.

The other potential recruit was Benet's junior Kaitlin McInerny. She matched up against Whitney Young's 6'5" center Danielle Campbell. Campbell is headed to Purdue, and that big gold "P" is going to stand for project. In short, McInerny had her way with a very nice drop step against Campbell--either getting a nice clean look at the basket or drawing a foul nearly every time she got the ball. Two problems, however. First, two early fouls (one questionable) put her on the bench for much of the first half. Second, Whitney Young has as much team quickness as I've seen at just about any level, which prevented most passes when they mattered. Campbell did get a lot of inside rebounds (helps when you're 5" taller than most of the other players on the court). She may be ranked 28th in that same national list. But in the one-on-one matchup, she didn't look all that impressive.

So, for those of you looking for me to bring the bright side of the TCU loss, sorry to disappoint. And in a move that will likely disappoint nobody, I promise no more HS girls basketball reports.

Frustration in Fort Worth

This is one of those games that has got to keep Coach Crean up at night. It certainly kept me up, and I'm still down about it today. Marquette held a 10-point lead with 7 minutes to play last night, and everything was very rosy as I sat listening to Homer and McIlvaine calling the game on the radio while watching the Duke-UNC game.

Then, total disaster strikes. A very frustrating loss-- one that probably sealed Marquette's fate as an NIT team. Obviously, I did not see this game on TV, and I typically am not one to harp on officiating. However, Marcus Jackson and Steve Novak each fouled out (some of these fouls were questionable according to Homer and Mac), and an apparent missed call helped lead to our demise. With about a minute to go and Marquette up two, TCU missed a shot and Diener went up for a rebound. At that point, a TCU player went over Diener's back to grab the rebound and make the putback. Obviously, I didn't see the play, but according to McIlvaine, it was a clear "over the back" call. So, rather than TCU having that last shot, Marquette would have had a two point lead with Diener at the line and very little time on the clock.

Having said that, we should have won even without that play, and this is a hard pill to swallow. The only chances we have at making the NCAA's now are to either beat some teams we shouldn't (Louisville and Cincinnati) or make some improbable run in the conference tournament. Of course, unless we somehow win the conference tournament, we're also going to have to win the games we should win (East Carolina, Houston, Saint Louis). Ultimately, either scenario seems highly unlikely, and in all probability, Marquette will once again be in the NIT.

I am certainly sorry to see Diener go out like this. What a great kid and a great competitor. It is too bad we couldn't have made one last run to the NCAA's with him. Ultimately, injuries, illness, and lack of depth because of transfers led to our downfall.

Keep rooting for Marquette this season, Marquette fans! Diener, Jackson and Townsend deserve it. But also know that the future looks brighter as we move East. Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, Wes Matthews and Dan Fitzgerald are coming, and Marquette will compete at the very highest level.

Slipping Away

Marquette snatched defeat from the jaws of victory last night, losing 63-62 to TCU in Fort Worth. Plagued by foul trouble, MU led the game 51-43 when senior center Marcus Jackson fouled out, followed soon after by Steve Novak. Holding on to a two-point lead with 26 seconds to play, MU inexplicably left TCU sharpshooter Marcus Shropshire open -- and he promptly drained the three. MU responded with a turnover to end the game.

This is frustrating. Coming into the game, things seemed to be in place for an MU victory: Diener was healthy and starting, Chapman was healthy and starting, Novak had delivered steadily improving performances of late, and Amoroso had delivered back to back double-digit scoring games. Alas, none of this was enough. TCU coach Neil Dougherty made a great call following the timeout, freeing up Shropshire for the winning shot.

As great as TCU's execution was on this play, one has to question MU's inability to defend the obvious. To make matters worse, Shropshire was afforded an open look. Wide open. Shropshire joins Chris Rodgers, Rodney Carney, Darius Washington, Marcus Kinzer, Taylor Rochestie, Brendan Plavich and Sammy Mejia as guards who've turned in performances far above their seasonal averages against MU this season.

Despite injury and illness, MU came into this came at 16-6, in position to claim an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament if it secured a few key wins. Now at 16-7 with only two road wins all year, this team is quickly reaching the point of nearly having to run the table to secure that bid - -- and with games against Cincy, Ville and DPU, that scenario is unlikely. If MU can't top TCU on the road despite a sizeable lead late in the game, closing the season winning five of its last six seems unlikely. MU has not been able to win a game it shouldn't have in the current campaign, something Crean's squad will need to do if its to get over the hump this year.

Its not time to look ahead to next season, but MU is teetering on the brink of becoming a 'wait until next year squad'. With senior leaders like Diener, Townsend and Jackson, this optimist will hold onto hope (irrational though it may be) that MU can finally win a few games it's not expected to down the stretch.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Payback? Let's hope so

The Marquette Warriors travel to Fort Worth tonight to take on the TCU Horned Frogs. If revenge was a factor in Saturdays' victory, it should be as well tonight. Last season, TCU swept MU, winning at the Bradley Center and then again in the conference tournament.

TCU has a respectable RPI of 99, and has shown marked improvement this season. TCU is led by pair of guards, Corey Santee and Marcus Shropshire, both of whom played key roles in last year's games. MU seems to give up big games to opposing guards with some regularity (see Rodgers, Plavich, Carney, Washington), so tonight will prove to be a tough matchup again. Moreover, TCU gets to the free throw line more than 20 times per game, so this one could be ugly and foul-ridden.

With both Travis Diener and Joe Chapman on the mend, MU could be at full strength for the first time in weeks. The timing could not be better since this is another must-win for MU. At 16-6, there's little margin for error if this squad is to claim a ticket to the NCAA tournament. Winning road games in February will can re-establish MU's momentum this season, just in time for a run of home games to close the season.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Travis Diener named a Naismith Finalist

Marquette Point Guard Travis Diener was named one of the top 30 finalists for the Naismith Award recognizing the best player in college basketball. The list will be thinned to just four players on a final ballot in March. For a complete list of the top 30 and the accompanying article, please click here NaismithAwards.com

Dominic James: Frontrunner for Mr. Basketball in Indiana?

Perhaps. Earlier today James was named the state's player of the week for the third time this season by Hoosier Hoops. James led Richmond to a pair of wins, tallying 49 in one victory and scoring 31 along with the game-winner in a victory over a tough Roncalli squad. Duke signee Josh McRoberts was the early front-runner for the award, but James' dominance of late and his new perch as the state's top scorer are turning heads. Plainfield's Dana Green sums it up best, "I've been doing this 18 years, and I don't remember anyone better than him."

Tradition With Respect

Just a quick pointer for interested alums......a group of well-meaning alums are building an on-line petition calling for the return of the 'Warriors' nickname. New-Warriors.com is located on the sidebar under the Marquette links category. The site owners will present these names to Marquette University in advance of the upcoming Board of Trustees meeting.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Knowledge Transfer

Transfers are a fact of life in Division 1 hoops. Consider that in the last 18 months, Boston College and Kansas both endured an exodus of three players each - - many of the kids in question were very talented. Yet a quick glance at the national rankings will tell you that both the Eagles and Jayhawks are doing just fine, thank you. Realize that Illinois endured a couple of transfers in the last year, just like Oklahoma, Arizona (Lute is notorious in this regard, and a master at rebalancing his program), and countless others.

Marquette is no exception. In just the last 90 days both Brandon Bell and Niv Berkowitz transferred out of the program. Cycle back a few years and note that the program lost Odartey Blankson, Kevin Menard and Ron Howard in a cluster following the loss to Tulsa in the NCAA tournament. In between, Karon Bradley, Carlton Christian and James Mathews all left MU.

Transfers work both ways though....MU benefitted from incoming transfers like Robert Jackson, Marcus Jackson and perhaps Dan Fitzgerald and Mike Kinsella (due to injury) next season. (Back to Berkowitz; this is hardly a major issue. Niv decided to try college ball very late in the season, did not even visit MU, didn't speak the language well and was several thousand miles from home.)

Regardless of one's opinion on why MU is enduring so many outbound transfers, or even if the kids leaving are talented enough to make a difference on the floor, this blogger believes the personnel losses create a gap that is difficult for any program to close. Dean Smith coined the term 'program' for a reason -- it was not about any one team, or any one season. A 'program' is a continuum, with rites of passage and shared responsibility. Four-year seniors provide coaches with the glue that can help bind a program together. These guys know what to expect from the coach, they lead in the offseason, are seasoned by the ebbs and flows of conference play, know how to prepare for games, they understand the playbook, and help create a healthy culture within the program.

With fewer four-year seniors, coaches are faced with decreasing returns on instruction time, playbook knowledge, and an understanding of the 'system' (whatever that is). Now, certainly Tom Crean is not alone in dealing with this issue - - four-year seniors are harder to come by in this era of instant gratification -- and in each of the last three seasons MU been forced to integrate many first year players quickly into the system. Again, this is not unique, even in MU's own league.

Clearly there are many sides to this issue -- not all four-year seniors are leaders, mefirst has invaded hoops more than most sports, incoming transfer talent has been productive for Crean, and MU wins plenty of games. With these points in mind, MU's incoming and redshirt class seem especially appealing. With Diener, Jackson and Townsend moving on, there's plenty of PT to earn - - and hopefully satisfied players and coaches as well.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Losing your point guard really hurts.

Michigan loses again. Now have lost six in a row. Illinois up next.

Uh oh.

They have averaged 52 points in the four game stretch since Horton was suspended. And that comes against middle-of-the-pack teams like Ohio State, cellar dwellars like Purdue, and contenders like MSU alike.

Now they get a stretch against 3 ranked teams: Illinois, Wisconsin and MSU.

Michigan's situation shows how bad things could have gone for Marquette. Diener was back today, and handed out 8 assists. The bottom line is that MU wins with him back in the lineup.

Things are looking up for Marquette.

"Old coaches win at home. That's why they're old coaches."

Gotta love Al McGuire. Tom Crean sends his Marquette Warriors to the Bradley Center today to take on the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles. Despite MU's problems of late, exacerbated by both injury and illness, this team has yet to endure a bad loss, but lacks a convincing victory in the last few weeks - the equivalent of barely treading water. While certain aspects of this season are frustrating regardless of injury or illness - - consider MU's struggles with rebounding and offensive continuity - - the squad can still turn the corner if it holds on until Diener (hopefully) returns.

Sure, Pollyanna has invaded this blog, but with a home game today followed by two winnable road games and four of the final five games of the season at home, why not?

In effect, today is a must-win for Marquette. Southern Mississippi embarrassed MU last season up in Green Bay, so revenge should be part of the equation today as well. MU could be without Diener, Joe Chapman and Niv Berkowitz - - meaning any win would be fugly. But a win is a win is a win when faced with a depleted roster. And wins all look the same on Selection Sunday.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Jerel McNeal Update

Its time for a breath of fresh air. While MU is mired in a difficult stretch of basketball, the future (as it always seems to) looks pretty darn good. The Chicago Sun-Times does its best to lift the spirits of the MU faithful with this write-up on the sensational senior season Jerel McNeal is having. McNeal, who was offered by only two high-major programs (MU and Purdue, unless you want to count Dayton), might be the biggest surprise in IHSA hoops this year.

McNeal, out of Hillcrest High School in the southwest Chicago 'burbs, has emerged as a serious contender for Mr. Basketball in Illinois. Already this season, he convincingly outplayed Julian Wright (KU signee) in a win over Homewood-Flossmoor, and led his team to a victory over the then top team in the nation, Thornton. McNeal was recently selected to play in the Roundball Classic next month in Chicago. Congratulations, Jerel.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Update: Non-Conference Foes

At the start of the season, some on RingoutAhoya wondered why we couldn't schedule the better teams in some of the lesser conferences.

Lets see where our foes stand at mid-season:

Western Carolina: 2-7, Tied for 9th (out of 12) in the Southern
Air Force: 5-1, 2nd in the Mountain West
Illinois State: 7-4, 3rd in the MVC
Sam Houston: 5-2, 2nd in the Southland
Kent State: 6-4, 3rd in MAC
Oakland: 3-5, tied for 6th (out of 9) in MidCon
Delaware State: 7-2, 2nd in MEAC
Coppin State: 7-2, 1st in MEAC
Wisconsin: Tied for 2nd in Big 10
Arizona: 6-2, Tied for 1st in Pac 10
Nebraska: 3-4, Tied for 6th in Big 12

IPFW and SDSU are independents

Looks like most of our non-conference foes (8 out of 11) are contenders for their league championships. Give Tom Crean and Bill Cords some credit for finding some of the better "buy-game" opponents.

Taking the Long View

OK, sometimes the best content on MU hoops won't appear here on this blog (shocking news, to be sure). Anyway, here's a link for the Ring Out Ahoya message board to an interesting thread that explores the patience of the fan base relative to the heightened expectations created by Tom Crean's extraordinary early success at MU.

MU folds in second half while absorbing another injury

Without PG Travis Diener in the line up, without backup PG Niv Berkowitz (deep thigh bruise) to pick up any slack, Marquette took on the nation's leading team in steals per game, the UAB Blazers. Junior Joe Chapman played lights out in the first half keeping the Golden Eagles into the game and hitting 5 for 5 from beyond the arc. Marquette led by one point at the half.

The second half was a different story completely as MU was dominated in the paint and gave up too many easy baskets. Rubbing salt in the wounds, Joe Chapman suffered a knee injury that required he be carried off the court. His status is unknown. If he cannot play on Saturday, Dameon Mason will have to play point guard.

For a complete recap of the game, click here for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story. Marquette drops to 15-6 on the season and will face the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles next.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

"I'm sure he'll play....He'll be fresh and ready to go."

It sure sounds like UAB head coach Mike Anderson is more optimistic about Travis Diener's availability tonight than either Tom Crean or the MU faithful. MU hosts the UAB Blazers tonight at the Bradley Center for the last time as conference rivals. During the last several seasons, the Blazers have given MU fits with their high-pressure, uptempo style of play. UAB is doing the same to other opponents as well -- Anderson's crew forced 28 turnovers in their most recent game against USF. For the season, the Blazers force more than 22 turnovers per game from the opposition, which keys a +8 turnover margin. Moreover, the Blazers average 12 steals per contest. A potential advantage for MU is rebounding -- the Blazers are consistently outrebounded, suffering a - 7 rebound margin so far this season.

Nevertheless, have you heard that MU's point guard Travis Diener is injured and will not play tonight?

Despite the advantage of hosting the Blazers on their home floor, finding a way to sneak away with a win tonight will be a tall order for Marquette. Diener is arguably the most valuable player to his team in the entire nation - - - simply put, MU does not have one other legitimate ballhandler on the roster, and Louisville exposed this weakness. Somehow, Marquette will need to find new ways to beat the Blazers' pressure or it could be a long night.

Here's a link to the Journal-Sentinel curtain-raiser for tonight's game.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Top 25 vs. Top 25: A two year summary

This weeks ESPN/USA Today top 25, and their two year record against other top 25 teams.

1. Illinois: 8-3
2. UNC: 10-8
3. Kansas: 5-4
4. Kentucky 4-2
5. BC: 5-6
6. Duke: 11-3
7. Wake Forest: 10-9
8. Syracuse: 5-5
9. Louisville: 3-2
10. MSU: 0-10 (including Illinois)
11. Oklahoma State: 4-3
12. Washington: 3-5
13. Arizona: 4-3
14. Alabama: 3-5
15. Pitt: 5-2
16. Oklahoma: 4-9
17. Cincnnati: 0-4
18. Texas: 5-7
19. Wisconsin: 7-3
20. Uconn: 3-7
21. Gonzaga: 5-2
22. Utah: 0-3
23. Georgia Tech: 7-8
24. Maryland: 8-12
25. Villanova: 2-9

Makes our 4-5 mark against ranked teams seem pretty good by comparison--both in terms of number of ranked opponents as well as our success rate.

Marquette and Michigan State: Charting Recent Progress

The following amazing statment is from Decourcy's Daily Dish at TSN

Michigan State hasn't beaten a ranked team in two years.

Let me repeat that, in case you think you misread that last sentence.

Michigan State hasn't beaten a ranked team in two years.

After you let that sink in, allow me to put it in this perspective for you: Since the departure of Dwayne Wade and our last Final Final four--over that same two year period of ranked futility for MSU, Marquette has racked up 4 wins against ranked teams--against 5 losses. A most-respectable near-.500 record.

And I have to admit--I wasn't 100% sure DeCourcy was right. So I went back through the records. Going back through the almanac, you'll find that MSU lost to their only ranked opponent so far this year (Duke), all 8 they faced in 03-04 (Kansas, Duke, Kentucky, Syracuse, Wisconsin, Illinois, Wisconsin and Wisconsin). And the picture could be worse, this year Wisconsin and George Washington were unranked when they defeated the Spartans--each team moving up in the next poll.

Marquette fans have long measured the success of their program compared to Michigan State ever since the arrival of Tom Crean. Since March 30, 1999, Tom Crean's program has been viewed as the poor cousin to the Spartans. Whether it's coming in second in the battle for recruits, less respect from the TV talking-heads or pollsters, or simply living under the biblical-like prophecy that when Tom Izzo decides to leave MSU, Tom Crean will simply move up the ladder to the always more-successful Spartans, MU fans have looked up to Michigan State as the program-we-most-aspire-to.

Given the recent success of Marquette vis-a-vis MSU, I believe its time for MU fans to stop with the Izzo-as-Mentor-Crean-as-Understudy storyline and recognize Tom Crean for his own mark--the one he's putting on the Marquette program. This is not to dump on Michigan State. Its still a great program--one of the best in the Big Ten. It's just time for Marquette fans recognize how far Marquette has come over the past six seasons. Our coach doesn't have to leave to find a place where he can beat top 25 programs. He's already found it.