NEW YORK—If you watched North Dakota State win the Summit League in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Tuesday and then drove straight to New York (1,354 miles) with no traffic, you could have arrived at Madison Square Garden just in time for Marquette and Seton Hall to kick off the Big East Tournament Wednesday night.
The four teams that played Monday and Tuesday in Sioux Falls and the four teams that played in New York had some things in common:
- None of the eight teams would play in the NCAA unless they won their conference tournament.
- They all played in front of huge crowds (10,153 in Sioux Falls and 12,588 in Madison Square Garden).
- Each venue saw a senior go off from the three-point line, with North Dakota State’s Lawrence Alexander hitting 6 of 9 three-pointers to beat South Dakota State and Marquette’s Matt Carlino hitting 8 of 12 three-pointers to beat Seton Hall.
But that is where the similarities end.
Alexander’s heroics Tuesday night in the 57-56 win will be rewarded—he will now get to lead the Bison into the NCAA tournament as the Summit League champion.
Sure, they will be big underdogs—just like they were last year when Alexander scored 28 points to stun Oklahoma in the opening round.
Carlino’s reward is that Marquette now has to win three more games—all against teams going to the NCAA tournament—and they get to start with only 15 hours before going into a game against top-seeded Villanova as a 14½ point underdog. With that, Carlino’s career probably ends Thursday at about 2 p.m.
“Before he was injured this year, Matt was on pace to be a 1st Team All-Big East player,” his coach Steve Wojciechowski said after last night’s surprisingly easy 78-56 win, in which another senior, Derrick Wilson, dished out 14 assists. “He is one of the best guards in the country and we are playing much better as a team.”
Marquette beat a Seton Hall team that has the 6th-best freshman class according to www.valueaddbasketball.com. When asked if the reliance on freshman for so much of their production might have helped the game slip away Wednesday night, Pirates coach Kevin Willard responded, “Yes, I think we were just a bit fragile. A couple of Marquette’s shots went in early. On one play Isaiah (Whitehead) played great defense on Carlino, but he just hit a really tough shot.
“Sometimes a fifth-year senior just beats a freshman. Then they bank in a shot [Steve Taylor’s three-pointer at the end of the first half]… freshman just are not always mentally ready to deal with that.”
The win likely simply extended Marquette’s season for 17 hours, but in essence the national tournament has begun. The problem for Marquette and other early-round winners from big conferences is that they need to win nine more in a row to take a title starting with Thursday’s almost impossible game—while the Bison just need six more wins for a title.
Hope springs eternal—but the season will end in disappointment for all but one team of the 351 who either do not make the tournament or eventually lose.
“Why not us?” Wojciechowski asked his team after the upset. There are still more than 100 teams that can say the same thing—in theory only, of course.
Seton Hall is one of many other teams that can say, “Just wait until next year.” Based on www.valueaddbasketball.com, Seton Hall had the sixth-best freshmen in the country.
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