CLEVELAND --- I was really looking forward to the 6-11 game here between Xavier and Marquette, but the Golden Eagles took all the fun out of it by being too damn good.
Marquette is an interesting team. With that 66-55 victory over the Musketeers on Friday night, it enters Sunday's game against Syracuse with a 21-14 record. That doesn't sound so great, but what distinguishes Buzz Williams' team is the total absence of what any reasonable person would term a "bad" loss. Marquette's non-conference losses were to Duke (by 5), Gonzaga (by 3), Wisconsin (by 5), and Vanderbilt (by 1, and, naturally on the road). The closest thing to a questionable loss in the treacherous Big East Conference was a, 85-72 setback at the hands of Seton Hall in the last game of the regular season. But by that time Seton Hall was playing some very good basketball.
Marquette has a 6-11 center named Chris Otule, who really isn't very good, but who can be given some slack since he is playing with one eye, having lost the other to glaucoma. Aside from that, they aren't big at all. But they are the personification of scrappiness, and they will guard you.
The formula for defeating Xavier was simple: they put 6-6 Jimmy Butler on Xavier star guard Tu Holloway and took him almost completely out of the game, limiting an 18 ppg guy to one field goal, that coming nearly 30 minutes into the game. Marquette is easy to like and easy to respect. They beat Syracuse in Milwaukee this year, so logic dictates they could repeat that conquest at the Q.
Speaking of The Q, I must report to you that it is as good as any 20,000-seat place could be for the fan. The first level is really close to the floor. The second level is surprisingly close to the floor. Even the nosebleeds are not so bad. Four Stars for The Q.
I mentioned in the morning paper --- you should try it sometimes --- that my approach to the NCAA tournament is to seek a player I'd like to adopt. I found one in George Mason forward Luke Hancock. Friday night I found a player I didn't want to adopt as much as I wanted to take home on a leash. That player was Indiana State guard Jake Odum.
Listed at 6-4 and a generous 170, and complete with a flat top and an Abe Lincoln (i.e. no mustache) beard, it's like he is on loan from the Amish All-Stars. He flits in and out of the lane, always on the alert for a cutter, and he snaps his passes off with great briskness. He chats up the refs, and he is just a trip. I'm sorry Indiana State is going home. I'd like to see him play again.
Allow me to join the chorus of protesters bemoaning the total sellout of the tournament to some guy watching TV in Pocatello. The Syracuse-Indiana State game started after 10:30, EDT. Any sane person knows this is preposterous. There was no valid reason why the first game of the day here at the Q couldn't have started at 1:10, rather than 2:10, so we could have the four-game card moved up accordingly. If someone out West is going to watch, he or she will watch at 10 a.m. as easily as they'll watch at 11 a.m. But, as is always the case, the people in the East must make all the sacrifices for TV. The pampered babies west of the Rockies never make any.