"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

Friday, March 16, 2007

Searching for answers

A 24-win season with 10 Big East wins wasn't supposed to end this way.

Marquette went to battle without its rudder, absent its best player in Jerel McNeal and lost in embarrassing fashion to Michigan State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Only Tom Izzo's willingness to surrender some of the keys to his Supermax complex spared the Golden Eagles further tournament humiliation. In the end, a twelve-point loss to a perennial power looks palatable in the media guide.

Too bad Roy Williams didn't realize the virtues of winning gracefully in 2003.

Still, based on the way MU hit the floor last night, Jerel McNeal might not have made any difference. Once again, MU was not ready to play in the opening half of an NCAA first round game.

In each MU's four NCAA appearances during the last six seasons, the Golden Eagles have emerged from the tunnel impossibly flat and uninspired. Only Travis Diener's sublime performance in the second-half of the Holy Cross game in 2003 stands between Crean and an o-fer in NCAA tournament competition. Diener's heroics erased the memory of a listless performance against Tulsa in 2002. After the glory of 2003, MU reverted to form with their not-ready-for-primetime opening half against Alabama last season. And now the unfathomable effort against Michigan State, where one might have expected Crean to gameplan even more effectively given his familiarity with the opponent, makes the pattern undeniable.

Certainly fans can analyze each season and rationalize each first-round defeat. It was Marquette's first NCAA appearance in years. The team was young. MU was down a man.

All are true of course, but if fans have rationalize their team's play in March everybody loses.

While Crean is rightly praised for being a program builder par excellance, it is time for his program to turn the corner once more. Unless the program breaks through this first-round stagnation, frustration will mount.

Questions about the roster already abound after last night's mauling. Can Crean take his program to the next level without bringing in more substantial baseline talent? On a team built around strong guard play, why is the roster nearly devoid of consistent shooters? Why do Crean's teams show such great improvement after the Christmas break, and tend to plateau in February and March? What can be done differently to prepare for NCAA tournament games?

Mounting questions come with the territory when you have a nationally-recognized program, one with higher expectations than at any time since the glory days of the 1970s. Higher expecations are nice to have in Milwaukee, we've missed them for so long. For that, MU should thank Tom Crean.

Ultimately these are great times for the Marquette University basketball program. The Bradley Center is filled, the team is all over ESPN, the Big East schedule is unparalleled, national rankings are routine, the players and coaches represent the University well, and Crean's players graduate.

This is a program to be proud of.

Winning reguarly in March is all that's left for Crean to master. And with a young team returning along with several talented newcomers, once again the ingredients will be there for a breakthrough in 2008.

Once again.


Mike said...

What an absolute disgusting and embarrassing loss.

I enjoyed your points on questioning Tom Crean's teams. God knows none of the local media will question his decisions.

The fact is, he's never been a good tournament coach. Besides the final four run (which he had one of if not the best basketball player in the world), he's done nothing to prepare his teams for the tournament. Conference USA, Big East, Ncaa, or NIT. We always come out flat.

And that's only one gripe with the team. The horrible half court offense (that awful weave), the overly aggresive practices that leave us exhausted and injured come tournament time, the head games that cause players to transfer, and the diet pepsi's are all reasons to question Crean.

With that highly paid of a coach, you'd expect Marquette to be a strong tournament team every year.

I'll partly thank Tom Crean for bringing the program back to life, but it's mainly Dwayne Wade who did that (thanks for finding him Crean). But if we ever want to win a title we may need a better coach. Let him go to Miami.

We're in the Big East now, and we're willing to overpay for a high profile coach. Let's get it done.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with the previous poster. Everyone wants to win now. But it's a lot of knocking on the door year after year before the door gets a crack in it. How many years did it take Holmgren with having good teams before winning a championship for the Packers? How many years did it take Scotty Bowman of the Redwings before he won a Stanley cup at Detroit? The talent level is increasing every year and with that I think Marquettes team's will continue to improve. Yea, everyone wants it win it now, but sometimes it takes a while. In my opinion Crean is doing a great job.

Anonymous said...

I also have to disagree with the initial comment. While I am disturbed by the result of yesterday as much as anyone, Crean is the best coach this program has had in 30 years. It obviously needs improvement in many areas, but to throw a successful coach under the bus is a little harsh.

Gene Frenkle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gene Frenkle said...

While there are definitely points of criticism to be made towards Crean, the first comment here on the board is the typical knee-jerk reaction that is definiitely not needed right now. Sit back, take a breath and look at the program from several perspectives.

From a business perspective, Crean's done wonders for MU. Season ticket sales are up 70% since he took over. Conference games average 16,000 per game at home, versus those woeful 10,000 nights when Southern Mississippi came to town. Also, the team would not be in the Big East if it weren't for Crean. More exposure means more TV money, means more interest from high schoolers, means more applications, means more tuition, etc… From a business perspective, Tom's worth his weight in gold.

From a development of players perspective, yeah, you can say Wade may have made Crean, but how many other coaches out there were Wade at the time? How many would have bailed on him for being a partial qualifier? (Note - if Wade were recruited today, he wouldn't have qualified for MU as the Big East does not accept partial qualifiers). Hindsight is 20-20 and Wade was a solid recruit at the time, but he wasn't being billed as a savior. Let's give Crean credit for that. He improved dramatically under Crean. So did Diener. So did Henry. So did Novak. So did Merri…actually Merritt sucked. Anyway, to only give credit to the player in this situation, and not to the coach who recruited him is a little unfair.

From a win/loss perspective, its frustrating losing in round one…again. But let's be patient again here and think before acting. First, you don't go and replace a coach that's had Crean's success unless you are guaranteed of getting equal or better success. Name me any coaches out there MU can go and "buy" to replace Crean? There aren't any. I do think he needs to finally learn from his mistakes of having all-out practices so late in the year and maybe throttle it back to reduce the risk of injury. It's burned us now four years and cost us one NCAA berth and possibly one win.

Crean's been nothing but loyal to MU and I think in this case he deserves it back. He could have bolted years ago and cashed in even more. But he stayed. If there's any job he'd take, it's MSU, but other than that, unless he had a major fall-out with the fans/alumni, he's not going anywhere.

Let's see what happens next year when they will potentially be returnining one of the top three best teams (on paper) to the Big East). Remember Lute Olson. He had a terrible rep for years and finally won it all and consistently wins 20+ a year and makes the tournament.

And last, if it helps, try to remember the 80s and late 90s and how fun those years were for MU. In reality, today's not so bad.

Anonymous said...

Here is another perspective: MSU is a BETTER TEAM. They beat us. And almost beat the badgers at their place too. A very good defense stopped an offense that lives and dies on the perimeter and was missing its best player. Izzo knew what he was doing by going in low and getting us in foul trouble. After he cut our legs he patiently dissembled any remaining offense as well as opening biggers holes in our ?defense. We earned our early season embarrassing losses and our midseason run. We did our best with what we had to work with and the seed was correct. Next year we begin the year as top ten (and end about 14). We'll get to the elite eight before being knocked out. Take it to the bank.

williewampum said...

Crean has been a godsend for Marquette image-wise, but it's not a "knee-jerk" reaction to question him. He's in his 8th year.

We were embarrassed last night. The year before, we came out completely flat against Alabama. We came out completely flat against Tulsa. We came out completely flat against Holy Cross. The Final Four run was phenomenal, but need I remind everybody of the Ned Beatty treatment we got when we arrived in N.O.? Kansas was up by more than 30 points IN THE FIRST HALF!!! Williams had to pull his started with about 15 minutes left. Imagine what could have happened yesterday if Izzo hadn't called off the dogs.

I don't know what it is, but something is leading Crean coached teams to come out WAY too tight.

There are a lot of MU fans that are satisfied that Crean has convinced the ESPN's of the world that he's a miracle worker. He may be a miracle worker as far as PR is concerned. Results on the court are another matter altogether.

Anonymous said...

I agree that Crean's done wonders for the program. How many comments would there be if we were still stuck in Conference USA?

I do think Crean has some learning to do. He is known for his tough practices. I've heard that Amoroso finds SDSU's practices a breeze compared to what Crean runs. Part of that is to build a successful team...our program is stronger than SDSU afterall. McNeal's injury might have happened anyway...it didn't sound like a very preventable injury.

One thing to consider is that the hard practices may not be good for tournament time. When players go all out in practice the level they need to turn it up to for gametime isn't that much higher. What they do is more routine, except that come game time it really matters. The result is coming out flat and being more prone to tense up and worry instead of playing loosely.

Anonymous said...

MU is stuck in low gear. there has been no improvement since Crean has arrived, despite the one fluke season where everything came together. You can have the hype of his terrific-three recruits last year, but I'll take Tony Miller over James any day. He couldn't shoot, but he knew it. James hasn't figured it out because his coach treats him like Oscar Robertson.

NY Warrior said...

"MU is stuck in low gear. there has been no improvement since Crean has arrived, despite the one fluke season where everything came together."


20 Big East wins in two years, 4 NCAA bids in the last 6, a Final Four, 3 players in the NBA, huge spike in TV exposure and ticket sales.

Do u miss Mike Deane, the 1980s and frankly any season that was not the 1994 season from the MU stretch of 1980 - 2000?