Would the Marquette Golden Eagles, currently sitting on top of the Big East at 8-0 and ranked eighth in both the ESPN and AP polls through week 12, be in this position if Tom Crean hadn't bolted for the Indiana job last May?
To begin with, I have been a dedicated Marquette fan for the last four years of my college tenure. I have gone to 90 percent of the home games, sat in the cold for hours upon hours just to be able to support my Golden Eagles, and make playing at the BC one of the toughest places for opposing teams to play.
I was there in 2005, when Marquette was still playing in Conference USA, battling the likes of East Carolina, St. Louis, TCU, UAB, and Houston. Travis Diener was our star while Marcus Jackson, Stevie Novak, Joe Chapman, and Dameon Mason were their to back him up.
I was there in 2006 for Marquette's first Big East game against No. 2 UConn, in which the Golden Eagles shut down Rudy Gay and Co., and Novak lifted the Eagles to a win with 40-plus points and 16 boards. It was probably the best game I had ever attended live. Not only was it a huge win, but Lebron James and some of the Cleveland Cavaliers were sitting courtside.
I was also there for the Marquette "Gold" fiasco.
I was there in 2007, when Marquette lost the worst game I have ever seen in the NCAA tourney to Michigan State 61-49. Dominic James took a step back that year and Jerel McNeal took a step forward.
I was there in 2008, when Marquette finally got out of the first round of the NCAA tourney by beating Kentucky and I almost cried when Brook Lopez beat them at the buzzer in the second round.
I have seen a lot of Marquette Basketball the last five years, and four of them had Tom Crean at the helm.
Being a Marquette fan, I will try to keep my opinions un-biased on ex-coach Tom Crean.
You have to give him credit for taking the team to where they are today. He recruited stars Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, Wes Matthews, and Lazar Hayward. He got Marquette accepted into the Big East. He put the program on the map. He is an excellent recruiter, showman, statesmen.
As a coach though, I was actually very happy when he left in May. The thing about the way that Crean coaches, is that there is only one game plan, the Tom Crean Game plan, and that game plan would be executed whether or not it was working.
Marquette has not had a legitimate big man since Marcus Jackson left after the 2004-05 season. He was not a guy that would ever recruit big men because in his fast-paced system, most of the scoring came off of turnovers and beating the other team down the court. The big man must be fast to keep up with the quick play of the guards, and their are not many out their that fit that description.
Secondly, he was a coach that would run his team out of the gym. Being a Chicago Bulls fan, I liken his style to Scott Skiles. A great disciplinarian who makes average teams good.
He puts the team on the map, but as evidenced by not being able to get out of the second round last year, and the first round the previous two rounds, that kind of style can only take you so far.
That being said, when Crean went Crimson, Marquette went gold.
Yes, the 2008-09 Golden Eagles are led by three outstanding senior guards. New coach Buzz Williams fell into the perfect situation for a rookie coach. If his team underachieves, it's because Crean left and he is a rookie. If they win, he will be the hottest coach in college basketball.
Beyond that though, it still takes coaching skills to get a team off to a 8-0 start in the monstrous Big East without a quality big man, and Williams has those skills.
It is evidenced by outscoring opposing teams in second half in 16-of-21 games. That shows that he is making adjustments.
It is evidenced by the drastic development of Wes Matthews and Lazar Hayward.
It is evidenced by the increase in field goal percentage and free throw percentage compared to last year.
Most importantly though, it is evidenced in the way Marquette is closing out games that they would have lost over the last few years.
Not only can Williams coach, but he excels at recruiting just as well as his predecessor. Even though you cannot accurately judge a recruiting class before they even start to play, the fact that ESPN ranks his 2010 class as 11th and Rivals.com ranks it at 18 shows that Buzz can recruit as well.
Through and through, Crean played a large part in the development of the current Marquette team that is beginning to become nationally recognized. Is he a good coach? Yes, and Indiana will enjoy many years of orange tans and Diet Coke (or is it Pepsi).
It was a blessing when he left though because they would not be as good with him at the helm.
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