Two immovable objects collide on Saturday at 1 pm in the Bradley Center. On the one hand, the Warriors stand in the way of Notre Dame's surprising NCAA tournament aspirations. The Irish are 20-10 overall but only 9-8 in conference in need of at least one more win to punch their ticket to the dance. On the other hand, Marquette wants to put an exclamation point on one of the most rewarding regular seasons in recent history and send its seniors out in style.
One team's NCAA chances vs another team's Senior Day. Something's got to give.
Notre Dame rolls into town as one of the hottest teams in the conference. Their last three games include a win against Pittsburgh, a shellacking of Georgetown at Georgetown, and a win against UConn. Taking off the blue and gold glasses, do you think Marquette could have pulled that off this season without its best player?
Wait... what the hell? Why am I writing this same story every week?
First it's South Florida that's hot and desperate. Adios, Dominique Jones. Then it's Pitt that's... okay nevermind. But Marquette then faced a desperate Cincinnati team on the road and won, ditto for Seton Hall, and most recently thumped another desperate-for-a-dance-card team in Louisville. Why is it that Marquette is constantly going up against teams that are dying to win in order to make the NCAA tournament? Somewhere the schedule maker is rejoicing.
While I take solace in the notion that in these situations MU has come out the victor, here's the big difference. Against Notre Dame, Marquette doesn't need the win in order to make the NCAA tournament. Notre Dame does. Marquette is no longer desperate -- will the Warriors lose their edge?
I think not.
Saturday is Senior Day. It's the final home game ever for Lazar Hayward, David Cubillan, and Maurice Acker. This troika has somehow led the Warriors' improbable run to 11 conference wins and a sure NCAA bid. And let's be honest, is anyone else tired of losing on Senior Day? Remember the Syracuse game last year? Remember the Georgetown game* from two years ago? Enough is enough on Senior Day, especially for this group of Seniors.
First there is David Cubillan. Cubillan is what he is. He's a 6'0" shooting guard that often ends up playing well out of position due to necessity. Cubillan had surgery on both shoulders, and he fell off the map in Buzz' first year. However, David has been healthy and productive as a senior delivering big-time minutes down the stretch in meaningful games. And let's face it...there's no way we beat Georgetown without Cubillan hitting six threes in that game.
What about Acker? After leaving the team, our own blog wrote him off. Acker is not a Big East-caliber point guard, the refrain went. Of course, all he's been is outstanding this year. In conference action, Acker leads the Big East in three-point field goal percentage, he leads the conference in assist/turnover ratio, and most importantly he stays on the floor for a team that lacks a proven backup point guard. Acker is rarely rattled and he does not make bad decisions.
Finally we have Lazar Hayward, one of the most productive players in Marquette basketball history. Hayward needs just eight points on Saturday to pass George Thompson and move into second place on the program's all-time scoring list. Hayward is likely to end his career as the only player in Marquette history to top 1,800 points and 900 rebounds. As as senior, Hayward is playing like the all-conference player many expected. Leading the team in scoring, rebounding and steals, Hayward remains a matchup nightmare for opposing coaches . And you'll never hear Lazar grouse about playing out of position for for years - he's been too busy improving his skills and delivering consistent production for one of the conference's most consistent programs. Lazar is nails.
Collectively these seniors lead a team that is greatly exceeding expectations. To wit, consider what Andy Katz said on October 15, 2009 -- "Since the expectation is that they will drop, finishing in the top 10 in the Big East will be seen as a major accomplishment that proves the Golden Eagles have sustaining power even in a transition year."
So guess what, Notre Dame. Marquette isn't losing this Senior Day. Not this year, not for this group of overachievers.
Dan McGrath authored a wonderful article about the seniors over on GoMarquette, be sure to check it out.
*yes, I know this wasn't actually Senior Day (Florida Gulf Coast was), but does anyone really count that?
Thank you, seniors. We sincerely appreciate all that you have done.
*joint post by Tim and Rob
Great stuff from the guys at MUTV Sports -- another fantastic report
Thursday, March 04, 2010