Greska: There And Back Again

On January 23, 2021, Marquette basketball broke me.

I wasn’t exactly a Wojo hypeman and had partaken in many a private conversation about his coaching acumen and Marquette’s future under his guidance, but I was probably one of the last to board that particular bus.

However, losing at home to DePaul, AGAIN(!), in a particularly lackluster performance was the tipping point for me. In that exact moment, with that exact Tweet, my apathy for Marquette basketball began to set in and my attention moved from watching them play and digging into the metrics to tuning them out and dissecting a tenure of incompetence.

Unlike many, I still watched and cheered and hoped the last month or so, but that hope was always dashed with the futility that was the Wojo era. I gave Marquette more than it would ever return under his guidance. It took that DePaul game to realize it would always be that way.

One year later…

Exactly 365 days later, Marquette took down yet another top-25 opponent in Xavier, and sits in the middle of a national conversation debating not whether Shaka Smart will be able to win some day at MU, but rather if Marquette is the hottest team in just the Big East or the country as a whole.

It isn’t hyperbole, either.

I don’t know whether it’s ironic, or karmic or prophetic that Marquette will likely leap into the top-25 of the AP rankings exactly 1 year to the day I lost all hope. But I do know who to thank.

Shaka Smart has taken this collection of individual pieces that no one outside of the Al McGuire Center, or heck maybe inside, believed would amount to anything more than a foundational blueprint and has created a team that has shocked the world.

And I want to emphasize the phrasing in that structure because the most tangible criticism of Wojo’s tenure was the failure to build something bigger and better than the individual talent. There were great players and fantastic games, but in sum, only 1 season ever felt like the whole was greater than the parts, 2019, and that resulted in an embarrassing finish and a destructive implosion of the team itself.

I know you are sick of reading about the past by this paragraph, trust me, I have an unintentional clenching just writing about it, but the symbolism of Jan 23rd requires that introspection.

The reason the victory over Xavier, the 6th in a row and 3rd straight as an underdog feels so refreshingly sweet isn’t just that I missed winning or like to follow a team that’s relevant (and, again, winning), it’s that it sets yet another marker that we’re a part of something we haven’t seen in nearly a decade. A true team.

Fluke wins happen and upsets are beyond normal, but Marquette has won pretty, ugly and pretty ugly in a season where I came in thinking there was a chance I could count the number of season wins with 2 hands. Picked 9th in the Big East, I don’t think I was alone.

And yet, despite the subpar talent and the 5 true freshmen and the 4 transfers and being one of the 10 least experienced teams with the 336th least minutes continuity, this team has formed an intractable identity. There were no superstar transfer signings. There were no 5 star recruits. Heck, there barely were any players left on the team. But no one has watched over the past month and not come away thinking, that’ TEAM is a problem.

As the season keeps humming and the results keep flowing, there will come a point where we take the past for granted and expectations shift so concretely, we won’t truly be awed by what we’re seeing. So I needed to get this down to come and reference.

And because I can’t leave you without some numbers, using KenPom’s day of game probabilities, Marquette had a 0.6% chance of going 6-0 the past 6 games. Even in my dreamland simulations, this set of results was too far fetched to be believed.

I’ll enjoy the present ride, look forward to future and work on forgetting the past. We’ve been there before and come all the way back again.

A TEAM worth investing in. I’m all in.

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Categories: Columns

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