"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mox Articulus Syndrome

As I've cruised the Internet superhighway the past week or so, I've been amazed at some of the things I've learned about this Marquette team. I've seen Vander Blue compared to Butch Lee and Earl Tatum. I've heard that Todd Mayo should average 25-28 minutes per game and will be the lock-down defender we need to replace Jimmy Butler. Another highlight is that despite our "low" media and coaches poll rankings, kenpom.com has Marquette as the 10th best team in the country. I've even seen one article listing Marquette as the favorite to win both the Big East regular season and tournament titles.

I attribute this to Mox Articulus Syndrome, which roughly translates from Latin as "Early Season Syndrome". Doctors recognize MAS (or ESS) as a condition that afflicts not only Marquette fans, but a heavy majority of sports fans. The same condition convinced Wisconsin fans that their football team was a national championship contender, had Detroit Lion fans believing they were going to win the Super Bowl, led Pittsburgh Pirate fans to believe their team could make the playoffs, and last year assured Michigan State fans that their team was the best basketball team in the country.

It can be a lot of fun to watch these early-season games and try to project what will happen the rest of the way. But before we get to carried away, let's look at some of the other things early-season games would have had us believing the past few years.

2010-11 Season

The Hype

  • Four games in, Dwight Buycks was ready to be an elite PG. He was averaging 12.3 ppg, 4.8 apg, and was a 63.6% three-point shooter.
  • In non-conference play, Vander Blue proved he was ready for this level. 9.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.9 apg, and 1.8 spg in 26.4 mpg. Fully worthy of his 5-star rating and a possible NBA draft early-entrant.
  • Ten games in, DJO was looking overrated. If you discount his 29-point outburst against UW-Milwaukee, he was averaging 11.8 ppg and shooting 18.4% from three.

The Reality

  • Buycks was a serviceable starter, but no star. For the season, he averaged 8.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg, and 41.1% from three. He also saw his minutes diminish: Buycks averaged 23.2 mpg over the last 9 games after averaging 29.8 mpg in his first 27 games.
  • Big East play was a reality check for Blue. Over Marquette's final 20 games, he averaged 1.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 0.7 apg, and 0.4 spg in 13.3 mpg. He only reached double-digit scoring once and was held without a single point in 11 of his last 20 games.
  • DJO was playing possum. By the time the season was over, he was Marquette's leading scorer at 15.8 ppg, and hit 39.3% from long range after those initial 10 games.

2009-10 Season

The Hype

  • This one was simple: we weren't very good. Our 9-3 non-conference record didn't look that impressive when the signature win over #15 Michigan fell to 6-5 before Big Ten play began. We followed that up by starting 2-5 in Big East play, including a loss to lowly DePaul.

The Reality

  • Marquette won 9 of their next 10 and went into the NCAAs as a 6-seed. Sadly, their penchant for losing leads came back to bite them as Washington overcame a 15-point second-half deficit.

2008-09 Season

The Hype

  • 14 games in, Dominic James was too erratic; 2.2 turnovers per game and frequent foul trouble -- 5 times he's had 4 fouls.
  • 5 games in, Patrick Hazel is a solid 6th man, averaging 5.4 ppg and 4.2 rpg in 17.6 mpg.
  • 7 games in, David Cubillan is clearly James' backup, averaging 4.7 ppg and 1.9 apg in 18.3 mpg.

The Reality

  • James calmed down. He only averaged 1.5 tpg the rest of the year and only once reached 4 fouls -- in a game he played all 40 minutes.
  • Jimmy Butler was the 6th man. Starting in December, Butler averaged 5.9 ppg and 4.2 rpg in 20.5 mpg. Hazel only once eclipsed 20 minutes and had 14 DNPs.
  • When James went down, it was Maurice Acker who filled in. Acker played 30.4 mpg from the UConn game onward.

I may not be a doctor, but I'm sure Dr. Blackheart would agree that Mount St. Mary's, Norfolk State, and Winthrop are a far cry from Villanova, Georgetown, and Syracuse. It's easy to catch Mox Articulus Syndrome, but the best part is that it seems to work itself out of the system within 2-3 months. And if any of us don't find ourselves cured by mid-February, well, that means this team really is as good as we're hoping. Even still, it's far safer to guard your optimism. After all, these results are nothing more than eating cupcakes in November.

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