The Trees Stand Tall

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By David K.

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3/22/08 

When it came down to crunch time, it was a battle of Marquette’s Jerel McNeal against Stanford’s Brook Lopez.  At stake: a trip to the Sweet Sixteen.  Both guys played unbelievable in the final minutes of their NCAA Tournament second round match-up.  Unfortunately for the blue and gold faithful, Lopez’s shoulders were able to endure more weight and pressure than his counterpart’s.

After dealing with foul trouble that caused him to sit for the final ten-plus minutes of the first half, the less goofy-haired Lopez was unstoppable.  Constantly abusing the Golden Eagles’ undersized post players, the seven-footer established himself on the block, going off for 28 points after the half, eight of which came in the extra session as Tom Crean’s crew never had an answer for the future NBA lottery pick.  With Cardinal Nation on his back, Lopez hit the dagger with 1.3 seconds left.  The Disney-loving Stanford sophomore was able to angle his upper towards the hoop as Dwight Burke practically forced him to fall out of bounds while hitting a near impossible shot, further cementing Lopez’s status as one of the top big men in the nation. Credit Burke for playing extraordinary defense on the game-winning play, but to no avail.  You knew they were going to feed Lopez in the post, and nothing could have been done to stop him from putting an abrupt end to Marquette’s season.

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McNeal was an absolute beast for the Golden Eagles, accounting for 16 of MU’s final 17 points, finishing with 23 in the second half and overtime, 30 for the game.  But when his team needed him most, McNeal was unable to answer the bell, missing two good looks in the lane that would have extended Marquette’s lead to three with under a minute to play in OT.  His shot selection at the end of regulation was also questionable when he chose to pull up for a contested three-pointer with six seconds left rather than attacking the basket and trying to draw a foul, a weapon in his arsenal that has succeeded numerous times this season.  Still, one cannot fault the Golden Eagle junior for his gutsy performance as he took the game into his hands and almost single-handedly willed his team to victory.  (For the record, McNeal averaged 23 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 53% from the field during the final six games of the season.)

The overall performance of the team can best be described by one word that both Crean and Dominic James used in their post-game press conference; character.  Several times during the game, it seemed as if Stanford was about to put things out of reach.  However, Marquette’s maturity came through as they were able to hang with the Cardinal. But as Crean put it, “never throw the knock-out punch.” 

It seemed as if that was going to be the case late in the first half when Stanford head coach Trent Johnson was ejected after picking up two technical fouls.  With Johnson watching helplessly from the locker room, the Golden Eagles put together an 11-1 run, taking an 11-point lead at one point.  When Brook returned to the floor in the second half to play alongside twin brother Robin, it just proved to be too deadly of a size advantage for the Cardinal.  (For the record, Robin Lopez has officially joined Notre Dame’s Luke Harangody on my least favorite players in college basketball list.)

I Love Stats

Jerel McNeal during the final six games of the season: 23 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 52.5 FG%.

Dominic James hit just 24.4% (10-41) from the field the last three games of the season.

David Cubillan proved worthless down the stretch, scoring just seven points in the final nine games, hitting the goose-egg six times.

Exactly one-third of Wesley Matthews’ points this season came from the free-throw line.

Looking to the Future

Three, maybe four Golden Eagles wore the Marquette uniform for the final time in their collegiate career.  Seniors Ousmanne Barro, Dan Fitzgerald, and Lawrence Blackledge have used up their four years of eligibility while it is still uncertain as to whether Dominic James will return for his senior season.  His NBA stock has not improved from the end of last season when he declared for the draft, realized he probably was not going to get picked at all, wisely pulled his name out, and returned to school.  If Dom throws his name into the draft this off-season, that is it.  He is done.  Only once can you declare for the draft and then change your mind.

Rumor has it that James is in need of some cash because of “family” issues and will hope, I repeat, hope to get drafted this off-season and catch on with an NBA team.  If not, it is possible that he can go play overseas to earn a steady paycheck. 

Putting the grapevine to rest, Crean will have to find a replacement for his starting center and sharpshooter.  Saturday’s loss to Stanford was another example of Marquette’s lack of size being too big of a liability to overcome.  The Golden Eagles will return Dwight Burke, Trevor Mbakwe, and starting power forward Lazar Hayward up-front.  It’s no secret that Hayward is not a true four and often gets into early foul trouble trying to guard bigger players.  Burke plays tough on the defensive end and in crashing the boards, but has practically no offensive skills. He’s also undersized at 6’8.  Mbakwe showed encouraging signs after returning from injury, but only stands 6’7.  MU has two post players in their recruiting class for next season; 6’7 Juco transfer Joe Fulce and 6’10 freshman Chris Otule.  So once again, the inside could be a big weakness for MU. 

By the way, I really hate Robin Lopez.

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Comments

  1. I like this.
    Robin Lopez truly is doing well in the tourney and is a budding Big Man!
    Stay tuned.

  2. paulmbanks says

    According to TSBer Andy Weise, he’s dating Michelle Wie too. or so a website says

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