This is more than just my annual “over-reaction to a Marquette loss” article. It just so happens that the timing of this comes after an embarrassing 74-57 defeat at the hands of Vanderbilt in which the score doesn’t accurately depict how big of a blow-out it actually was.
Now prior to the season if you would have told me that the Golden Eagles would finish 11-2 in their non-conference slate, I would have happily taken it without a second thought. However, after ten straight wins to start the season there is now reason for concern as Marquette enters Big East play having lost two of their last three.
First off, give credit where credit is due. Vanderbilt proved Thursday night why they were ranked seventh in the preseason polls. They are clearly a different team with a healthy Festus Ezeli in the line-up and utilized their size advantage at every position against a small Marquette team. When you also factor in how poorly MU played at LSU and how sluggish they looked against Milwaukee, especially on the offensive end, it worries me.
The biggest problem is on the interior for the Golden Eagles. Chris Otule is still sidelined due to an ACL injury and after Thursday’s game, Buzz Williams didn’t sound optimistic about his return, “If Chris comes back, it’s a long time from now.” With Otule out of the line-up, MU will be under-sized in pretty much every Big East game they play.
That leaves Davante Gardner as the only true low post player on the roster but as we saw Thursday versus Vanderbilt, he is a liability on defense and that gets him into foul trouble which ultimately renders him useless. Take Gardner out of the equation and Marquette ends up with a frontcourt of Jae Crowder and Jamil Wilson with Jamail Jones and Juan Anderson subbing in to give those guys a rest. That’s one 6-8 player who doesn’t box out and three 6-6 guys. Imagine them trying to guard a UConn team that is 6-11, 6-9, 6-8 up-front or Syracuse’s frontcourt featuring 7-0, 6-10, 6-7 players. Ish.
The 6-6 Crowder isn’t immune to getting into his own foul trouble especially when he is forced to play the five and guard much bigger opponents. That also limits his effectiveness inside as he lacks the explosiveness at the rim to overcome being three-five inches shorter than the man who is guarding him. Therefore, Crowder is forced to rely on his outside shot which has been off the past four games as he is just 7-24 from deep.
Outside shooting has become another Achilles heel for Marquette especially when teams are smart enough to play a 2-3 zone and force the Golden Eagles to rely on their shot rather than attacking the basket. It is a major concern because only three players provide any sort of threat from distance; Crowder, Darius Johnson-Odom, and Todd Mayo. When the starters are out there, Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue won’t shoot the three unless it is late in the shot clock and the same can be said of Derrick Wilson and Juan Anderson. Jamil Wilson and Jones badly brick their triple tries twice as often as they make one.
With concerns about scoring in the low block AND beyond the arc, the transition game will be vital to Marquette’s success in the Big East. Their suffocating defense must force turnovers, leading to fast break opportunities which is where a player like Blue really thrives. They also need to take advantage of when teams do play man-to-man defense by using their quickness to get to the basket and either making unselfish passes to open teammates, finishing strong at the rim, or drawing a foul and getting to the free throw line.
I know I am being a Debbie Downer but the results speak form themselves. Marquette averaged 84 points during their ten game win streak to start the season, but are scoring just 60 a game during their last three. That’s not exactly the ideal type of momentum heading into Big East play.
If there is a positive though it’s that the Big East does not have the depth in the middle of the conference that is has in previous years. However, the lower tier teams in the league are more capable of pulling off an upset. My prediction for Marquette in Big East play: 11-7 at worst, 13-5 at best. All that negativity and still better than the 9-9 mark they posted last year. Welcome to my world as a Marquette basketball fan.
David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank. He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a former contributor at The Washington Times Communities. David has appeared on numerous national radio programs spanning from Cleveland to New Orleans to Honolulu. He also had the most accurate 2011 NBA Mock Draft on the web.
You can follow him on Twitter at DavidKay_TSB.