Does anyone at Marquette still miss Tom Crean?
I understand Crean is a great coach and an in-law to the Harbaugh coaching dynasty. Crean also established himself as an elite coach in the college game guiding Marquette from 1999-2008. When he finally left for supposedly greener pastures in the B1G Ten, Marquette was supposed to immediately plunge into the depths of the Big East.
Instead it turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to the basketball program. Because how could you possibly not like Buzz Williams?
How can you not like the intensity, the perspiration pouring from his shirt like he had been sitting in a sauna for an hour, the pure emotion.
Then there is the stunt he pulled off Friday night at West Virginia.
Buzz Williams Dances…Again
Feeling a need to put his foot down discipline wise, Williams benched three regulars for the first half for violation of unspecified team rules, leaving the Golden Eagles (a handle which very few students/alumni dare call them) with only six players for the first half. Predictably Marquette would eventually fall behind by 16.
But then Darius Johnson-Odom, Junior Cadougan, and Vander (no relation to Vida) Blue returned for the second half, and Marquette made a furious rally to record a 61-60 win.
Then it happened, a moment that within a couple hours became part of GIF history:
Buzz did a brief dance. To “County Roads.” Right on the WVU logo. Then he headed for the ESPN commentators table as WVU students had to be restrained by security.
That, folks, was legendary.
That was generating pro-wrestling like heat, generating boos from an angry crowd.
Williams then apologized in the post-game presser, saying he did not realize that the John Denver classic is West Virginia’s unofficial anthem, and described his behavior as being very unprofessional.
I guess West Virginia is going to have to remember that and use it for motivation when the teams meet again in conference play next year.
No, wait. The Mountaineers are leaving the Big East for whatever is left of the Big XII. Enjoy those road trips to Lubbock, and they think getting out of Morgantown for a road game in Milwaukee is a challenging commute.
So maybe Buzz was “unprofessional,” but the last time I checked this was college basketball, as opposed to professional basketball.
Buzz Williams’ personality is a perfect fit for the heritage of the Marquette program.
Buzz Following In Al McGuire’s Footsteps
If you grew up around here like me in the 1970’s during the Al McGuire era, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
McGuire put the then–independent program on the map in an era where the likes of Indiana, Kentucky, and UCLA dominated. The team took on all comers during the regular season. There were intense matchups against the University of Detroit, like Marquette a Jesuit school in the middle of a Midwestern city. They had an equally brash coach, by the name of Dick Vitale. (Yes, he once had a career before broadcasting.)
Coach McGuire many times berated his players, famously referring to one not being able to “hit the ocean from a beach,” then later does a photo shoot with the player, who heaves a ball into a frozen Lake Michigan. He talked his players down because he loved them so much. Al was also groundbreaking for recruiting into New York City and getting players from the NYC playgrounds to come to Marquette.
The team had made it to the 1968 Regional Semi-Final against the Kentucky Wildcats, and Lexington just happened to be the regional site. This was long before the NCAA Tourney was seeded with higher seeds wearing the home jerseys. McGuire made a big stink to Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp (who Al despised in part because Rupp was fielding an all-white team, and Al reminded his African-American players of that fact) that his team had just as much a right to choose whether to wear the home-white or away-dark uniforms. So a coin toss was arranged, McGuire won the toss.
McGuire elected to go with road blue.
Rupp was irate, and Kentucky would go on to run it up on Marquette to the tune of a 107-89 final. But McGuire made his point – and the next year Marquette beat Kentucky in the NCAA tournament.
That set the stage for the rest of McGuire’s run at Marquette, including oft-introduced flashy jerseys, culminating with the untucked 1977 threads the team road all the way to the National Championship.
Which leads me back to the current Buzz Williams-led team.
Buzz Williams Walking Marquette Up
Marquette is perennially good, and more than treads water in the Big East, which is not bad for the supposedly under-budget school compared to some of the other Big East powers.
But this year is a bit different. The team went into the week ranked tenth, and eighth in the RPI polls. The team is now 13-3 in conference play, good for second in the Big East. Under Buzz’s guidance, this team is showing that they’re not only good, but perhaps Final Four good.
And what to read into Williams suspending three of his best players for the first half? Well, simply it’s because he cares, just as Al McGuire did in the day.
The unique tradition of Marquette continues. Rick Majerus got his start as a member of Al McGuire’s staff. Kevin O’Neill righted the program during the 1990’s before jumping around to other various jobs on the collegiate and professional front. Finally the more buttoned-down Tom Crean arrived.
As good as Crean was, Buzz Williams truly emphasizes the tradition and enthusiasm of Marquette basketball, the school nestled on the edge of downtown Milwaukee that theoretically isn’t even supposed to keep up in-state with the University of Wisconsin, never mind some of the other storied programs in the Big East and other power conferences.
Buzz likes things that way, and look for him to continue to walk it out…