Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
The life of a national college basketball writer are filled with these moments throughout the season. You get blasted on social media for overlooking/not writing about Team X yet get sniped at for not writing at a deep enough level when you do.
I bring this dilemma up because I’m about to go in on the second part of this and wanted to acknowledge that it’s difficult to appease everyone at all times. There are 350-plus DI teams and after one weekend of games, getting any publicity should be a bonus.
Yet, that shouldn’t be an excuse for the false narrative that’s already being printed about the 2013-’14 Marquette team.
Take Reid Forgrave. As FOX Sports preeminent college basketball scribe, having his first column/piece of the season be used to sing the praises of Davante Gardner should be a point of much elation to Marquette fans. Read it yourself in those big, black letters: “Gardner to define new Big East.”
Seeing that headline I was ready to sing my former employer’s praises and to highlight how beneficial FOX’s partnership with the Big East would be. Then I read the first three sentences:
“The first time I saw Davante Gardner step to the free-throw line, I thought the Marquette student section was joking.
“AUT-o-MAT-ic!” chants rained down.
Come on, I thought. Dude is listed at six-foot-eight, 290 pounds, a guaranteed brick if I ever saw one.
Davante Gardner is a senior who’s proven to be one of the best free throw shooters in the conference and the country over the past three years. A quick glance at the media guide would have dispelled that appalling notion that a big man can’t shoot as he finished the season at 83.5 percent from the line. So much for a guaranteed brick, eh Reid.
This is a small detail that he embellished for the sake of the story. I get it. Forgrave has been on the beat long enough to know Ox is Mr. Automatic. He was writing for a national audience that might not know Gardner yet. Again, I get it.
But he is falling into the trap of the easy-to-write-narrative way too early in the season. Let’s keep going in on his story.
He then claims that Gardner is a “a senior on a typically star-less Buzz Williams team.” Typically star less? Since when?
Year 1: Three Amigos. Year 2: Zar. Year 3: Jimmy and DJO. Year 4: DJO and Jae. Year 5: Vander. Out of the past five years last year was the only one you could point to and say there was no true star going into it, but Vander Blue pretty much dispelled that notion leading the team in scoring, including two buzzer beaters when it mattered most. Where Forgrave got the idea that Buzz’ teams are starless goes back to the #narrative that Buzz has teams that win without talent.
“Yet no single player stood out from last seasons’s group. Marquette just seemed to always play stout defense, stay in every single game and show its heart in the final minute when it mattered most.”
Facts are no challenge for the #narrative. Seriously though, FORGRAVE WAS AT THE DAVIDSON AND BUTLER GAMES. He wrote about Blue’s game-winner and his cold blooded performance one-upping Rotnei Clark. Is it not enough of a story to say that no player has stepped up as usually happens under Williams’ teams? He has to go and fudge five years of history?
He’s not alone. Seth Davis surprisingly gave Marquette two paragraphs in his Hoop Thoughts this week and went full on #narrative mode.
Toughness and physical play is nothing new for Marquette, but in the past, Buzz Williams has had high-level athletes to get his running game going. This team does not have a Darius Johnson-Odom or Jae Crowder to provide that dimension.
So Marquette doesn’t have a Jae or DJO this season. And that would differ from last year how? I know he wants to pretend last season didn’t happen, as he was very down on the team early on (as were most analysts and fans), but harping on players from two seasons ago isn’t very useful.
We’ll know more after Mayo comes back but I’m thinking no RT @nickhammer88: do you think marquette is a tournament team?
— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) December 5, 2012
Davis is a very smart analyst with a good track record so one lousy prediction isn’t the basis for an attack. It’s falling back on the trope that this team lacks athleticism. Jamil Wilson may be the most athletic player Buzz has ever had. Deonte Burton makes DJO’s slams look pedestrian. Juan Anderson, Jajuan Johnson and Steve Taylor (when healthy) all are top shelf athletes. This team will lack pace, but not for a lack of athleticism.
The funniest part is that this is nothing new. One of Williams’ biggest peeves was his 2010-’11 team being cast as misfits and completely overlooking the talent. It’s easy to say in hindsight that a team with four NBA players was talented, but even at the time, the amount of #narrative was overwhelming.
Case in point, media attention is good, but don’t buy in to the overarching narrative being written after one game. Get back to me in February.
Derrick Wilson’s three assists in over 30 minutes was a tad underwhelming, but they are another example of how a box score is misleading. With so many fouls being called, there were bound to be a few instances of assist-worthy passes being denied. I went back to the tape and found three such cases for Wilson.
Above is the first case early in the game that led to two made free-throws by Gardner. It was perfectly weighted and in a perfect location. No easy feet from the location where the pass originates.
This one is a bit more questionable as Mayo takes a few dribbles on his own, but the quick outlet led to two free throws anyways.
The picture doesn’t do justice to how fantastic this pass actually was. Derrick whips a one-handed feed to a moving Gardner in a perfect spot that should have been an And-1 but was only 2 free throws.
At the end of the day these are assists in thought only, as you’d have to do it for every player across the country, but they do highlight some of Wilson’s vision and go to show that his impact was greater than that of a simple box score. (For the sake of it, Jamil Wilson and Jajuan Johnson also had two Ox feeds that led to free throws.)
I was very harsh on Jake Thomas on Twitter during the game and in the grades after it, labeling him a detriment and a net negative. I was wrong and I apologize. Having watched the game again and focusing on Thomas’ defense, he was much better than I gave him credit for. He was beaten off the dribble only once all night and lost his man only a couple other times, and paying for it only once as it led directly to a three-shot foul, though he did not commit the foul.
Thomas also has a knack for being in the right spot for rebounds, though how much you want your two guard hanging back on defense is a different question. Add in the two assists and he was rather good defensively, particularly in contrast to Jajuan Johnson, who looked as if he was on ice skates at times. Thomas struggles staying in front of quicker players, but that will be something to look at on Saturday against the Buckeyes.