No, it is not quite the time for March Madness. Yet, Monday night's game between the Marquette Golden Eagles and the Duke Blue Devils had all of the necessary components: great players, brilliant coaches, ferocious game play, and Dick Vitale going absolutely nuts for 40 minutes.
Both Marquette and Duke played this game as if it were their last, and the audience caught glimpses of how things could shake out for the rest of the season. This slideshow is a collection of the things we can look for from these two great programs going forward and into the 2010-2011 season.
The truth is, Marquette is drastically underrated going into this season. Going on player talent and athleticism alone, the Golden Eagles are among the top tier in college basketball.
Jimmy Butler is a big-time scorer, putting up a 22-point night against a defensively solid Duke squad. The remainder of the starting lineup struggled early, especially guard Darius Johnson-Odom, who didn't score a point in the first half.
However, he put up a strong 13 points in the second half alone, an effort that helped Marquette keep Duke within spitting distance. The only area in which Marquette has been criticized is their lack of a true big man who can control the paint.
It does seem curious, however, that they only were out-rebounded by three, 36-33. This stat only pads the idea that this tough group can simply find a way to get it done and out-hustle their opponents.
Buzz Williams' team, although only returning three key players, Butler, Buycks, and Johnson-Odom, seems ready to attack the season head-on.
With a little improvement and some luck in avoiding the injury bug (especially to big man Davonte Gardner, who left the game in the second half), this team can truly compete for a Big East championship.
Yeah, I said it. The youngest of the Plumlee Bros. tandem is extremely talented. Mason put on a show on Monday night, tallying 25 points, 12 boards, and five blocks.
He was a straight-up spark plug on an otherwise-deflated Duke offense. He proved to the college basketball world that he is ready for the big time, ready to shine when his number is called. I know, I can't believe I'm writing this, either.
But honestly, without Mason Plumlee, there is no way Duke would have even contended in this contest. Marquette would have walked out of the Sprint Center as the happiest team in all of sports. Mason Plumlee would have none of it. Kudos to him; he played a heck of a basketball game.
You have no idea how much I hate myself for the words "Diaper Dandy" even popping into my mind. In just this game alone, Dick Vitale used it no less than 22 times. And I don't hate the phrase, it's cool, smooth, and appropriate.
Come on, though, can you think of phrases that have been overused and abused more than "Diaper Dandy" in all of sports? It disgusts me that I even have to address this issue, but there needs to be a movement which bans sportscasters from using this phrase more than twice a game. Honestly, we have to stop this.
Now, on to the "talented young player," Kyrie Irving. In his first real collegiate game (no, Colgate, Princeton, and Miami of Ohio do not count as real opponents), No. 1 showed that he can contribute to his team even when faced with a tough defense.
He had a solid all-around game, recording 11 points, 8 assists, and two steals. His only burden was turnovers, of which he had five.
Dick Vitale sang praises for Mr. Irving all night long and I have to agree, he looked ready to be there, ready to live up to the hype. It will be exciting to watch him mature throughout the season.
Let's be honest here. Marquette is a solid team that has a chance to make a run in the tourney this year, but they truly aren't on the same level as some of the other elite teams. I think we can all agree on that.
This is why it is crazy to me that they only lost to "No. 1" Duke by five measly points. You see, I don't think Duke deserves this status. They are seriously not as stacked as they were last year.
Yeah, Singler is good, Irving has great potential, Mason Plumlee just proved to us that he shows up. But are they really better than, say, the Michigan State Spartans? I don't think so.
In fact, I would bet big money that No. 7 Villanova could destroy Duke if we could see a head-to-head meeting between the two teams today. Ah, how I speculate.
We will see on Dec. 1, in their match up with Izzo's Spartans, if Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils have enough to keep up.
As fans, we watch college basketball for the moments. The moments in a tight game that make us jump out of our chairs. The moments in a season of our favorite team or alma mater that give us goosebumps, that feeling of pure and utter joy.
Many times, this feeling can come from a buzzer beater or a valiant comeback. Last season, for me, that moment was seeing Ali Farokhmanesh and the lowly Northern Iowa Panthers defeat mighty Kansas in last year's Dance.
Marquette vs. Duke was the first game I watched in its entirety this season, yet I still had several of those pure moments of ecstasy.
It is comforting to know that one of the most innocent and enjoyable sports, college basketball, has not changed a bit, has stayed true to its identity of exciting, perfectly simple sport, and hopefully will continue to be a great escape for generations to come.