Four Thoughts on Marquette, Creighton, SDSU & GW at the Wooden LegacyPosted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 30th, 2013
The Wooden Legacy created a lot of buzz on Friday night during its action. Here are four thoughts on what happened last night in Fullerton.
- As of today, more than three months from the NCAA Tournament, it remains to be seen just how good Marquette really is. There are some serious question marks about this team, mostly offensively, including just exactly who on this team, aside from specialist Jake Thomas, is going to hit some outside shots. But, we could probably think back to last year about this time and come up with some similar questions. And the year before. And the year before that. But still, Buzz Williams’ teams have wound up experiencing plenty of success in each of those years (just to remind you, they’ve been in at least the Sweet Sixteen for three years running), despite those weaknesses never getting fully resolved. Why? A lot of it is because his teams have taken on the personality of their coach: humble, intense, blue collar, and hard-working. A great example of the fire that Williams brings out and celebrates in his team came with under a minute to go Friday afternoon in the waning moments of a Marquette blowout. With George Washington refusing to give up the ghost despite a 16-point deficit, the Golden Eagles did the same, fighting to the final buzzer. And there was that aforementioned specialist Thomas, diving on the floor for a loose ball, thinking of calling for a timeout on an otherwise meaningless possession, but then, from the seat of his pants, finding his bulldog point guard Derrick Wilson for a breakaway layup. It was a play that caused the entire Marquette bench, Williams included, to erupt with a passion normally reserved for a tight game. Distill that play, bottle it and you’ve got the very essence of “Marquette basketball” under Williams. Williams on that play: “That’s a Marquette play. You can argue as a fan that maybe it wasn’t a meaningful possession. You can argue that mathematically the game was over. But for Jake to dive on the floor with both feet and both hands and come up with the loose ball, and then to pitch it ahead to Derrick for a layup, I hope that that’s a reflection not only of him and of our current team, but also our program.”
- George Washington did not play particularly well on Friday afternoon, and head coach Mike Lonergan was the first to admit it. But, this is a team that, again, as Lonergan admitted, probably didn’t expect to be playing for a championship on Sunday anyway. They knew they were going to be in for a battle every game this tournament, and the fact that they have a chance to be playing for third place on Sunday is a boon for them. Meanwhile, for Creighton, it is a disappointment. If Creighton isn’t careful, they’re liable to suffer a letdown on Sunday, especially playing in the cavernous Honda Center in front of a sparse crowd rather than the band box Titan Gym where the first two rounds were played. And if that happens, a GW team with shooters on the wing like Maurice Creek and Nemanja Mikic, grinders in the middle and nothing to lose, could make the Bluejays earn their lunch on Sunday, something Greg McDermott alluded to in his postgame press conference: “I’m not looking too much down the road, because I think George Washington is a heck of a basketball team and we’re going to need to be ready to play on Sunday or we’re going to be in big trouble.”
- The big critique of Creighton in recent years has been that this team isn’t great defensively, in part because they’re not particularly athletic. And, that point was hammered home time and again on Friday night as San Diego State’s long and athletic perimeter players were able to switch on every ball screen, pressure Bluejays’ ball-handlers all over the court, jump into passing lane and do a real good job on the glass. But, credit Creighton for fighting through that and making a game of it. While the Aztecs severely dominated a healthy chunk of this game (SDSU outscored Creighton 46-18 between the under-16 timeout in the first half and the under-16 timeout in the second half), Creighton adjusted, made a commitment to working on the glass and, when shots started falling again, they found their way back into the game. And, a big part of that was the play and energy of the team’s best athlete: junior college transfer Devin Brooks. He has his moments where he gets a little wild (following one of those moments in the second half, after Brooks flew into the lane and flung up a crazy attempt at the rim, Greg McDermott turned on the sideline, looked down his bench and then, finding no enticing replacement, gave sort of a half-shrug and decided to let Brooks continue), but he really makes things happen for his team. Few opposing guards can check him, he’s an excellent rebounding guard, and he’s a willing passer as well. And if he is into the game, as he has been all weekend, he’s got the ability to be a terrific defensive guard. Last night I don’t think it was any coincidence that when Brooks was on the floor for Creighton, they were +7; when he was on the pine, they were -13.
- Lastly, good on San Diego State. They played with terrific energy, were egged on by ridiculously good support from their effervescent fan base and knocked down a bunch of shots in beating a solid team. But for the season, this team is now shooting 44.4 percent from three-point land. Xavier Thames is shooting better than 50 percent, Matt Shrigley is up at 60 percent and, let’s be frank, this isn’t going to last. Yes, both of those guys can stroke it, but elsewhere on the roster, there just aren’t a whole lot of polished jump shots. Some of this shows up in the free throw shooting percentage, where the team was shooting 68.7 percent coming into the night. But last night? They hit 84 percent from the charity stripe. If they shoot their normal percentage from the line, that’s a one-point win. In other words, the numbers fell in their favor. And, that’s okay. The problem is, this is going to be a team that struggles to score at times this season. While they’re good enough defensively and athletically to stay in a lot of games, there are going to be plenty of nights where this team is exceedingly tough to watch. For instance, Sunday night in the championship game against Marquette? There is a good possibility that battle is going to be one ugly basketball game. One terrifically intense and hard-fought basketball game, sure, but it seems pretty likely that points will be at a premium in the title game.