Thursday, January 8, 2009

Livin' on the Outside -- The Marquette Guards

I am out of touch. My beliefs and opinions do not line up with the mainstream. This was already clear to me before I found myself watching the People's Choice Awards, but they really brought it home.

Rascal Flatts. I just don't get it. I find nothing about them appealing or redeeming. They're not good-looking. Their clothes are ridiculous. Their hair makes their clothes look good. Their sound is not unique or original in any way, and they can't sing. And yet...they sell millions and millions of records. I can't make it make sense in my head.

And this is nothing against country music. I like country music just fine. George Jones, Dwight Yoakam, Garth Brooks and George Strait are as likely to pop up on my iPod during a run as Springsteen and Tom Petty are. But this isn't real country, what these guys are doing. It's soulless crap. Kind of like Carrie Underwood, but at least I can figure out what happened there. She's an American Idol creation -- a product of our current culture's obsession with mediocrity and seeing itself on TV. People like her because Paula Abdul and Ryan Seacrest told them to like her. That doesn't make her any good, but at least it lets me figure out how she happened.

Rascal Flatts, I just don't get it. How did they get discovered? Who saw/heard them and said, "Yeah. That's going to sell?" I mean, whoever did was obviously a genius, because it does sell, but what about them would have made somebody think it?

Which brings me, of course, to Marquette, which won at Rutgers on Wednesday to improve to 3-0 in the conference. (And no, we're not going to mention that some teams get to 3-0 by playing Villanova/Cincinnati/at Rutgers while some other teams have to suck on 1-2 because their conference schedule started at UConn/Pitt/at Notre Dame. 3-0 is 3-0, and it all evens out in the end.) The final score of this game was 81-76, which is closer than you'd think it should have been, especially considering Marquette had a 21-point lead. But it's a Big East road win, which is a good win no matter what.

How'd they do it? The way Marquette alwas does it -- with guard play. Wes Matthews was 10-for-10 from the field and had 23 points. Dominic James was 7-for-13 and had 15 points. Jerel McNeal was 4-for-9 and scored 16 points. That's 66 percent field goal shooting from the starting guards, which is transcendent and can win you games even in a league where everybody else has redwoods inside. Marquette's backcourt is its whole game, and if they're to contend for the conference title, they're going to need these guys to shoot like this a lot.

Now, this seems to run counter to the theory I have so far been putting forth here -- that reliance on the outside game is cheesy and that teams running real, complex, patient, creative offenses that incorporate frontcourt and backcourt play are the real contenders in this year's Big East. That it's not going to be enough to fire away from behind the arc and miracle your way back into tough games when you fall behind.

But here's the thing. Matthews didn't shoot a single three-pointer. James and McNeal shot four apiece (and each hit one). The Marquette guards don't just set up camp on the perimeter and bomb away. They slash. They create. They look for the extra pass. They're quick.

Can they win like this all year in this Big East? As always, we'll see. They'll need to be real quick to get in and around the Pitt frontcourt, real patient to handle the Georgetown pressure, real tough to absorb the pounding they'll get from trying to cut to the basket against Hasheem Thabeet and Samardo Samuels. They'll need Lazar Hayward (6-6) and Dwight Burke (6-8) to play bigger than they are to keep some of the offensive pressure off the guards. They'll need to play better defense than they did in the second half against Rutgers.

But they're good, like so much else about this conference this year. And there's no reason not to rank them with the other real contenders a this very early point in the season. Four of their next five opponents are West Virginia, Providence, Georgetown and Notre Dame. And their regular-season closing stretch is an at Georgetown/UConn/at Louisville/at Pitt/Syracuse wheat thresher. So if they do win it, you'll know for sure they earned it.

Even if the way they do it is a little bit out of the mainstream. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong with that at all...

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