Today feels like the first day our new, hopefully temporary, yet probably weeks-long reality. It’s a little much to say “welcome to collective isolation” just yet, but that might be where we’re heading.
Those of us in and around sports have to find ways to fill time that was spent watching, talking, reading about, analyzing and obsessing over actual games. There are none, nor will there be, for the foreseeable future. It is what it is. I particularly empathize with my radio brethren at iHeartMilwaukee. While it’s rare for me to be in-studio outside of picking up or dropping gear to do high school broadcasts in the fall, I did once live the radio life. There’s a reason I preferred to be an update anchor, akin to Brian Posick or Jimmie Kaska, to a host. Even when the sports schedule was full, I struggled to come up with good show topics on the few occasions I filled in hosting shows not solely dedicated to the Brewers or high school sports. Hosts need to find a lot of filler. That’s not going to be easy.
We’re all going to need to fill the time with something, though, especially because that will be better than sitting around worrying. I’m here to help, so we’re going to keep Marquette Courtside going for a while to try and fill the void. How? Let’s make up a tournament! Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to:
The Marquette Courtside/WhatIfSports “Millennium Bracket”
We can’t have actual sports right now, but we have the means to simulate them, even across years and eras. With college basketball, video games have been out of the question in recent years due to the NCAA’s draconian rules. But that hasn’t stopped the fine folks at WhatIfSports.com from setting up a text-based simulation for college basketball, among other sports. We can use that to do something fun.
(A note here: I have nothing to do with WhatIfSports and I don’t think they make any money off these simulations. I bring that up in case anyone is concerned we’re violating some sort of rules by doing this. I don’t think we are, but if so, we’ll probably find out the hard way. Oh well.)
Here’s the deal: The site features the ability to simulate any matchup, between any NCAA Division I team, from the 2005-06 season until the recently-ended 2019-20 campaign. You can set the simulation to be on a neutral court, or with one team having a home-court advantage; we’ll set ours to be at a plausible, neutralized version of the Bradley Center. Based off numerous statistical factors, the site runs a text-based sim, complete with play-by-play, that produces a plausible game & box score for if the two teams were somehow able to transcend time and play.
In addition to teams from 2006 onward, the site also includes squads from other years here-and-there. For Marquette, it has the 1977 national championship team, the 2003 Final Four team, and, for reasons I don’t know, teams from 1999-2000 and 2001-02. Unfortunately, in doing tests for this project, simulations using the 1977 team produced funky results. Without any three-point line in the college game then, the 1977 team never is shown to make, or even attempt, threes, putting it at a disadvantage. Accordingly, we’ll leave them out of this bracket. Sorry Bo Ellis.
However, we do have 18 Marquette teams from 2000 through 2020 (also sorry, 2001, ’04 and ‘05). What can we do with those teams? Put them in a bracket, of course, and let them virtually fight it out.
We’ll start by cutting through the drivel of the selection show and simply revealing the bracket here. How was seeding done? I sorted the teams first by how far they got in the postseason, then eyeballed ones that reached the same level and sorted them out mostly by conference record. I assumed, as many fans cynically did, the 2020 team would probably drop its opening-round NCAA tournament game, slotting them accordingly. The Dwyane Wade Final Four team, of course, got the top seed.
Having 18 teams means we get a “First Four” before jumping into the round of 16. Teams are not only labeled by year but also by head coach and top scorer to make it less of a jumble of numbers. To at least eliminate some possibility of fluky results, each matchup will be a best-of-three simulations.
At this point, you’ve maybe visited the WhatIfSports site and said, “What’s stopping me from just doing this myself?” Answer: Nothing. You could. Not to mention, I’ve done some testing, and WhatIfSports is imperfect. But that’s where I come in: For each matchup, I’ll do a little write-up of each game, including tidbits about the teams’ actual seasons, the years they come from, game recaps and plausible quotes from the virtual participants. Humor will be injected. Expect long-winded responses from virtual Buzz Williams, short, clipped thoughts about team failings from virtual Tom Crean and virtual Steve Wojciechowski to speak in clichés. This will be an exercise in creativity. I promise to make it fun. Plus, hey, we’ve got nothing better to do.
If we get through two matchups per blog, I’ll be happy. There should be a total of 17 matchups. If I do two blogs per week, that will take about nine weeks. Hopefully, by then, our virus concerns will have blown over and you won’t care who the winner was. If not, then maybe we’ll try something else.
But hey, it’s something to read while we’ve got all this downtime. Why not, right? Let’s give it a shot. Look for the “First Four” matchups later this week: Williams’ swan-song team from 2014 against the Henry Ellenson-focused team from two years later, as well as the 2000 team taking on Wojo’s piecemeal first-year squad. I’m not saying this is going to be great theater. But we’ll do our best, and again, it’s making something out of our current nothing.
SPLINTERS? Yes, we’ll keep the Splinter tradition alive, too. Hopefully we’ll have some room at the end of each blog to at least put a few notes in about less-interesting, probably more-depressing, stuff going on in the real world while we do our bracket. I’m lucky to have the space to vent. I might as well use it.
A LIST OF FOLKS I ACTUALLY PITY RIGHT NOW: Freelancers … the low-level folks who work in the entertainment & sports industry … healthcare workers … anyone with the virus … civic leaders at the state and local levels … anyone who has to keep doing their normal job, like public safety officers, knowing it puts them in a spot where they’re probably going to be among the first to get the virus …
A LIST OF FOLKS I MORESO HUMOROUSLY, IN AN “I’M LAUGHING WITH YOU” WAY, PITY RIGHT NOW: Parents of multiple kids or at least one moody teenager who must be in the house with them, immediately and almost constantly, going forward … Amazon employees … delivery people … anyone who works in the toilet paper industry … anyone for whom at least two of these criteria apply … etc.
A GLEAM OF HOPE: I want to save one splinter each week for something uplifting. Remember after 9/11? Remember when Rudy Giuliani seemed more … sane? When you ask yourself if it’s still OK to laugh during these times, set this clip to 7:39 and hit ‘play’. That’ll give you your answer.
More later this week.