How’s that for a start to a season?
If Cosmo Kramer’s lawyer Jackie Chiles were a Marquette fan, he’d say it was glorious, majestic – resplendent.
There was the poaching of the Prairie View A&M Panthers Friday night. Then on Sunday, Marquette initiated a blitzkrieg on Bucknell, led by Panzer-like freshman forward Davante Gardner.
Regardless of the nature of the victories — the Golden Eagles needed a 27-4 run in the final 10:22 after trailing Bucknell for most of the afternoon — the bottom line is that these first two games went down exactly as planned.
As a fan base, don’t we feel great about this start?
It’s easy to answer that question thusly: “Yes! Greatest Marquette team ever! Dwight Buycks for Big East Player of the Year!”
But my response seems to be different than a lot of people on campus. I usually come away from non-conference games feeling dirtier than Andy Dufresne at the end of “The Shawshank Redemption.”
As a teary-eyed Terrell Owens might say: When Marquette beats up on small schools, man, it’s not fair.
It was evident within the first five minutes of the Prairie View A&M game that the Panthers couldn’t hang athletically. I wished Tim Meadows from “Saturday Night Live” fame would’ve replaced his Panther namesake just for the entertainment value. I get bored when one team manhandles the other, you know?
The last 10 minutes of the Bucknell game also showed that even if an unheralded team jumps out to an early lead, it can’t withstand the full-court defensive carpet-bombing Marquette can put on teams.
Now, I know there’s value in playing games against Mississippi Valley State, Centenary and the Massachusetts Clam-Hunting Institute. They build player confidence. They let coaches experiment with lineups. They offer respite before an arduous Big East schedule begins. And they bolster not only the win-loss column but the accounting ledgers as well.
Donors provide a huge portion of Marquette’s huge basketball revenue (as some brilliant person reported in the Tribune earlier this year), and they’re more likely to donate when the team dominates.
These benefits are all well and good, but to me, they’re far surpassed by what happens when a powerhouse loses to a lightweight.
As fellow columnist Erik Schmidt touched on last week, if a team loses a gimmie non-conference game, it needs more than a Tide to Go stick to remove the stain. It needs 15 minutes under a sandblaster nozzle.
And even when Marquette beats these teams handily, it still ends up losing in a way because of the influence strength of schedule has on the tournament selection committee.
Think about this: using last year’s final RPI ratings, the average RPI of this season’s non-conference opponents is 176.58. That’s the equivalent of playing a 13-17 San Jose State team 12 times. Woo boy.
Avoiding these lose-lose situations should be simple: schedule teams with name recognition or strong conference affiliation. Teams like Princeton, Iowa or any of the directional Michigans look better on a resume than Longwood, win or lose and regardless of if the team is actually any good.
For instance, the loss to North Carolina State last season was somewhat acceptable simply because it plays in the ACC, even though the Wolfpack didn’t make the NCAA Tournament.
Even with my aversion to cupcake scheduling, there are positives to be taken from this weekend’s games. The Golden Eagle defense still soars around with talons bared, forcing opponents into turnovers. Freshman guard Vander Blue looks like he’s ready to play defense in Division I, which is usually the last skill freshmen develop.
Gardner and redshirt sophomore center Chris Otule showed they’re capable of providing an inside presence Marquette hasn’t had in a long time.
It’s important, though, to take these early season results with not only grains of salt, but with huge blocks of it. The kind you might find in a horse stable.
Wins are great, but the season doesn’t really begin for me until Marquette takes on Duke in Kansas City, Mo., on Nov. 22.
Not to worry. It’s not far off.