I’m not sure the next time you will see four players as dominant across the board as you saw last night when Davante Gardner, Todd Mayo, DJO and Jae Crowder outscored and outrebounded St. John’s by themselves despite playing just over half the minutes (106 of 200). With help from Junior Cadougan scoring on an early trey and drive to help set the stage for his seven assists, the four combined for an effective Field Goal percentage of 75%, the same percent they shot from the line.
|Davante Gardner, F||34||8||13||0||0||6||8||15||1||0||2||22|
|Darius Johnson-Odom, G||28||7||11||2||4||4||6||2||6||0||0||20|
|Jae Crowder, F||23||7||10||1||3||0||0||9||2||4||2||15|
|Todd Mayo, G||21||5||6||0||1||2||2||2||0||0||0||12|
Perhaps most importantly with Chris Otule out, Gardner showed he could dominate for 34 minutes in the third straight game MU has played like a borderline Top 10 team. This may make the average fan ask how this can be the same team that didn’t look like they belonged in the Top 100 against Norfolk State, LSU or Vanderbilt.
You could have asked the same question about Dwyane Wade’s Final Four team that FIVE TIMES did not look like a Top 100 team based on GAME SCORES of 75 or lower (edged #284 Texas San Antonio 80-68 at home, lost to #32 Notre Dame 71-92, lost to #151 East Carolina 70-73, lost to #69 UAB on neutral court 76-83, lost to Kansas 61-94).
The fact is that on average teams play a terrible game about once every six games, and Marquette has been very close to that ratio every one of the last 10 years – except for when they were much worse in 2004 and 2005. Here is a breakdown of how many times Marquette played like a Top 10 team (Game Score of 90 or higher) and like a non-Top 100 team (75 or lower) in each of the past 10 seasons:
This is why taking the national title is so difficult for any team – you need six wins in a row to take the title, meaning on average you are going to have to win once when you play a terrible game.
The fact is that if Marquette had scored just 2 more points against both Syracuse and St. John’s the last two games, it would have made three straight games in which Marquette played like a Top 10 team, and 9 of 17 for the year, putting them on par with the 2003 team that played like a Top 10 team 17 of 33 outings.
Granted, MU is still not playing at the level they did when they played like the national champion three of their first seven games this year (Mt. St. Mary’s, Mississippi and Wisconsin). That was the best stretch Marquette has had since they played near the level of a national champion all but the middle game of a five-game stretch in late February 2008. (beat Seton Hall 89-64, Pitt 72-54, St. John’s 73-64, Rutgers 78-48 and Villanova 85-75)
However, if Marquette played near the same level of the last three games for the next six, then they would travel to South Bend with a record of 19-4. Even assuming one of the next six is a dud, MU would very likely be 18-5.
The fact is that while Chris Otule’s defense cannot be replaced, Davante Gardner showed tonight that the offense can make up for it. It may have been good that Jae Crowder and DJO were on the bench in foul trouble so early, because it made both Gardner and Mayo step up and show once again they can take charge on offense, and once DJO and Crowder came back you had one of the truly great combined performances you will ever see by four players on the same night.
The ceiling for this team remains very, very high, so we shouldn’t give up as long as the bad performances continue to happen once every six games, any more than we should see a national championship if the team looks unbeatable once every six games.
Brad Stevens summed up this typical cycle a couple of years ago when he told his players, “Over 30 games, 5 times you will play terribly, 5 times you will be unbeatable. You aren’t that good or that bad. It’s how you play the other 20 games that determine your season.”
Last year Butler kept the ratio, losing six games to teams outside the Top 100 (#166 Evanston, #140 UWM twice, #112 Wright St, #107 Valparaiso and #247 Youngstown State), before winning 14 straight to make their second straight national title game. Marquette is probably due to have two or three more bad performances before the NCAA tournament, but unless it happens more often than that, let’s not give up on this potentially being a very special year.