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Despite losses, give Wisconsin and Marquette credit this season

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Michael Hunt
March 24, 2009

There is a lot of time to ask, “What now?”


So that can wait, all the questions of where Marquette and Wisconsin basketball go from here.


You could ask how the Golden Eagles can possibly replace Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews and Dominic James, but you know the answer. Of course, they cannot.


You could ask how the Badgers can grow some three-point shooters and get more athletic, but you know you’ll have to wait to see how the next wave of players reacts to Bo Ryan’s unchanging system.


But for the moment, let’s call a timeout on talk about the future.


For now, let’s pause to simply say, “Well done.”


But how, you ask, can you say that after Marquette and Wisconsin came up short Sunday?


Especially after the way the season concluded for Marquette, what with substituted free throws and a heartbreaking turnover and a no-call right there at the end?


Or how the Badgers fizzled in much the same way they had for most of a disappointing season?


Easy, actually.


If making the NCAA Tournament and upsetting Florida State in the first round constitute an off-season for Ryan, you’ll grant him that. Xavier was just way better, although the Badgers did nothing to put a dent in that reality by again clanging up all those threes with the sight of Joe Krabbenhoft, head buried in a towel, ending his collegiate playing days by fouling out with no points.


At some point, there will be lots of Madison hills to run this summer for those who follow Marcus Landry and Krabbenhoft.


And maybe we’ll find out just what kind of coach Buzz Williams really is when he has to start from scratch next year. But if you had to ask right now, he is a very good one, the right one for a season that went about as far as it could, given the circumstances.


You felt good for James as he tried to give it one more go. He couldn’t jump for the limited minutes he was in there, but that didn’t cost Marquette all that much against a very gifted and exceedingly deep Missouri outfit that just might beat Memphis in the Sweet 16.


You also felt very bad for Lazar Hayward for stepping on the line, but probably not as bad as he does for those three guards who are done. But that one play didn’t beat the Eagles.


As they were in those six games without James, the Eagles were compromised on defense. The Missouri Breaks were simply blowing by them in transition on the way to a 16-point lead, but that was before McNeal and Matthews took over to almost give Marquette one of its most inspirational victories in a long time. In their last game before wherever their skills take them next, McNeal and Matthews were sensational against the kind of depth Marquette couldn’t begin to match but almost did.


But in the end, Marquette exceeded the shot clock. It allowed late passage to the hoop. A talented freshman, per the rules, made two clutch free throws. It gave the ball back at an awful time. And the no-call that almost made Williams blow a gasket? Likely it made no difference. The better team won, although one with heart to spare nearly took its season further than anyone had a right to expect after James went down.


So, yes, the Eagles will have to find strength in numbers next year. The Badgers must develop playmakers. But for now, we can turn out the lights on college basketball around here without excessive regret.



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