Marquette is showing some Final Four muscle.
Forget the opening weekend, when it barely advanced to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16. There was nothing lucky about Marquette's 71-61 victory over Miami on Thursday at Verizon Center. It was a smackdown.
Marquette answered every Miami strategy. Sure, the Golden Eagles had some things bounce their way, and that never evened out for the Hurricanes. But Marquette displayed balance and preparation that overcame Miami's athleticism.
When Miami pressed Marquette, the Golden Eagles passed around it. If the Hurricanes wanted to fight underneath, Marquette hit from outside. If Miami needed 3s, Marquette let it throw bricks at the basket.
Marquette advances to Saturday's East Region final as a team outplaying its talent.
Gee, that sounds familiar for Miami coach Jim Larranaga. His 2006 George Mason Patriots advanced to the Final Four on this very floor in one of the greatest March Madness upsets ever. This time, Larranaga received none of the karma of that night long ago.
Miami's first Sweet 16 appearance since 2000 saw the Hurricanes looking like postseason newbies. No matter that the ACC champions finished 29-7 in their second season under Larranaga. They couldn't replicate George Mason's magic. They looked awful.
Then again, Marquette made Miami look bad. The Golden Eagles, who lost their past two Sweet 16 games, returned like seasoned veterans prepared for everything.
It wasn't exactly a big-time atmosphere at the opening tip. The stands were maybe 30 percent filled; the marquee game of the doubleheader between Indiana and Syracuse afterward was the bigger gate attraction. The empty seats left the opening vibe feeling a little empty, more like a December contest with students on semester break than a Sweet 16 meeting.
Indeed, the joint didn't begub jumping after a poor shooting start until Marquette's Vander Blue stole the ball and threw down a thunderous dunk for an 8-4 lead. Marquette scored 12 straight points, and suddenly it felt like a college atmosphere.
Wonder whether Larranaga's quote of the day was, "The ball is not your friend."
Miami scored its fewest halftime points of the season in trailing 29-16 at intermission. Yet it didn't feel over for the Hurricanes. They were too good for such a stinker. The bigger question: Once Miami started rolling, could Marquette stop the Hurricanes?
Miami made a brief run with nine minutes remaining, but it wasn't enough, and soon Marquette rebuilt its imposing lead. An arena now filled saw late-arriving Indiana and Syracuse fans applauding Marquette, maybe relieved not to face Miami. But then, they would be underestimating the Golden Eagles.
Marquette is for real. It could win the national championship after finding some swagger at Verizon.
George Mason found its heart at Verizon seven years ago. Maybe it's Marquette's turn.