I was truly heartbroken.
I was able to go to all of the NCAA games on the Elite 8 run last year, which turned out to be a lifeline during a very rough personal stretch. Last week I went to my first Big East tournament ever. After the loss, I started to feel like I was in the crowd that went from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, with comments going around about people being glad this senior class was leaving less than a year after praising them as part of the second EVER three-year run of Sweet 16s.
Are you kidding? We had gone 30 YEARS with TWO Sweet 16 appearances, 1994 and 2003. Then after a bad year, some want to slam the door on kids who were part of three Sweet 16s in four years? The only other time in Marquette history we have won three straight titles was the four straight from 1971 to 1974. Did people want Jerry Homan to leave in 1975 because the streak ended?
I could hardly fight back crying when the Three Amigos walked by me in the Boise airport after having their career end with no Sweet 16s. If you had asked me then if I’d take three Sweet 16s in four years but in the fourth year we had to go 0-32 I would have taken it in a heartbeat.
I went to New York to watch the guys who have been part of BY FAR the greatest career run in MU history since Al McGuire left. The towering shot of Davante Gardner above me on the Bradley Center scoreboard will be part of my love for this squad. We want these guys gone?
Jamil Wilson: yes a disappointing year as he was double teamed with our whole backcourt gone and even tried to play the point. During the 13-game run through the Sweet 16 win over Miami, he had a 128 Offensive Rating. That was better than any player in the country for the season. If Jamil had not transferred here you can turn back in the Elite 8 run. I have to believe even as a practice opponent his first year he had to help the team prepare for athletic opponents en route to that most stunning Sweet 16 run.
Jake Thomas: I never understand how people are mad at the guy who steps into a spot. It wasn’t Dwight Burke’s fault Crean couldn’t find a big man he had to step into a starting spot. Likewise, be mad at Vander Blue if you want, but don’t get mad at Jake for stepping in and giving nothing but hustle and a three-point threat to give us some chance in games instead of leaving to be a star in a smaller program.
Chris Otule: Double "are you kidding me?" The ONLY recruit who stayed when the program looked like it would collapse? The guy who finally gave us a presence at the rim after watching our heroic guards get overrun for years? One of the most beloved guys in MU history who often blocked two guys out from the rim?
Davante Gardner: Truly one of the greatest offensive players we will ever see. I was at the Notre Dame game when the fellow Virginia native came to visit, and have loved him ever since. Since MU joined the Big East, Davante closed with two of the greatest seven offensive seasons for MU according to www.valueaddbasketball.com.
Rank MU Player Offense Year
1 Novak, Steve 7.27 2006
2 Butler, Jimmy 6.85 2010
3 Crowder, Jae 6.24 2012
4 Butler, Jimmy 5.81 2011
5 Matthews, Wesley 5.54 2009
6 Gardner, Davante 5.07 2013
7 Gardner, Davante 4.61 2014
8 Hayward, Lazar 4.46 2009
9 McNeal, Jerel 4.31 2009
10 Crowder, Jae 4.13 2011
11 Johnson-Odom, Darius 4.05 2012
12 Hayward, Lazar 3.82 2010
Congrats guys. Noone remembers you for your worst year, they remember how high you took things. And for all of you, that means you were Elite 8 players that took MU to the highest level since the 1970s over a four-year run.
MU is better for each of you stepping onto campus.
Those of us who went to school in the 1980s will be among your biggest fans after our decade without a Sweet 16, but all true MU fans will understand that one down year is a small price to pay for the final three years on this list of Sweet 16 teams:
1955, 1959, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1994, 2003, 2011, 2012, 2013
In the end, I believe the rules were the undoing this year. The "freedom of movement" refereeing made it the year of the driving guard, making our incredible front line and long-bomber much less relevant than they would have been when guards had to dump it into the front line once they were stopped. Life isn't always fair, but we will always remember and love each of you and your time on campus.