Marquette won all three of its home games this past week despite falling behind early in each. The Golden Eagles were helped out by a handful of spectacular performances and now begin a seven-game stretch against unranked opponents, beginning with a road contest against Providence.
1. True or false: Davante Gardner is more important to Marquette’s offense than Jae Crowder.
Anonymous Eagle: False. Crowder’s inside/outside threat makes him much more important. Davante can be more dangerous. He can grab offensive rebounds with the greatest of ease, his touch around the basket is bordering on supernatural and he seems like it’s nearly impossible for defenders to figure him out. But you have to cover Jae all over the floor.
Mark Strotman, Marquette Tribune: False, but it’s close. The numbers may not show it, but Crowder’s offensive game has improved substantially from last year to now. His inside-outside game is as good as anyone in the Big East and he finally looks like Lazar Hayward at the top of the key. Gardner is right there, though. He is drawing fouls, keeping guards honest as he garners double teams and has kept the offense balanced since Chris Otule was lost.
Andrei Greska, Marquette Tribune: False, though I did have to think longer than I would have imagined I ever would. Gardner is a beast down low and should be a focal point when he is in the game. However, he only averages 20 minutes per game. Crowder, on the other hand, averages close to 30. He has three times as many assists, has scored more points and stretches defenses beyond the three-point line. He is still more important.
Cracked Sidewalks: False. Jae is the most important player to Marquette. Gardner may be more efficient than Crowder, but Jae adds a lot more value with his overall contributions. Note that we may be willing to accept an argument that Gardner is becoming more important to Marquette’s offense than DJO.
Mike Nelson, Marquette Tribune: False. DJO and Crowder are the bread and butter that make the Marquette offense go. Crowder averages 16.2 points per game, 14th most in the Big East. Crowder can attack an offense from inside and out. While this is a valid question given Gardner’s 15.3 points per game over the previous three games, I cannot justify picking Gardner over Crowder based on a smaller sample size than what Crowder has done all year long.
2. 1-10, how much of a concern are Marquette’s slow starts?
Anonymous Eagle: Eight. They’ve gotten lucky the last two times that their opponent couldn’t really counter Marquette’s counter-punch. When the opponent can, as we saw with Vanderbilt, they’re completely hosed. The upside is that the bad stretches seem to be shortening. If it can be reduced to a minute or two here and there instead of the first six minutes of the game, it’ll be very beneficial.
Mark Strotman, Marquette Tribune: Six. It’s hard to play 40 good minutes in the Big East (Buzz Williams even said only Syracuse has done that this year), and it just so happens Marquette lets teams make their runs to start the game. It certainly isn’t a good trend and playing from behind won’t work against premier teams such as Connecticut and Georgetown and whoever they play in the Big East, which is why it’s a six. But wins are wins, and the ability to come from behind and win games shows something positive.
Andrei Greska, Marquette Tribune: Eight. It’s nice to have the capability to come back from large deficits but it’s akin to playing with fire. You may evade it once in a while, but sooner or later you are going to get burned. There is no reason this team should be so poor at the start of games. It only puts the team at a disadvantage and puts extra pressure at both ends to score and get stops. This is very uncharacteristic of Buzz teams and quite concerning.
Cracked Sidewalks: Eight – putting together consistent play for the entire 40 minutes is probably the No. 1 concern.
Mike Nelson: Five. The slow start trend began against Vanderbilt on Dec. 29 and became a greater concern during the previous three-game home stand. It’s not a recipe for long-term success, but Marquette is 4-2 (tied for fourth place in the Big East) and a top-25 team in the country. With Providence, USF and Villanova upcoming, Marquette has some games where it can shake off this slow-start rust.
3. True or false: It’s time to enter Todd Mayo into the starting lineup for Vander Blue.
Anonymous Eagle: False. With Chris Otule’s injury forcing Davante Gardner into the starting lineup, offense is hard to come by from the bench, especially as Buzz shortens his bench even further as the season goes along. Mayo can excel from a position of being the sparkplug off the bench that comes in and splashes a few three balls and gets a few drives to the rim while providing what Buzz considers to be outstanding defensive pressure.
Mark Strotman, Marquette Tribune: True. The slow starts have, in large part, been due to defensive struggles but the offense has been non-existent as well. Mayo is a classic zone-buster and as nice as it is to have scoring off the bench, a fourth scorer on the floor with Junior Cadougan seems like a great remedy for the sluggish starts. Mayo is also becoming one of Marquette’s best defenders, as well. Blue is a vital part to Marquette’s success but swapping him for Mayo is more a compliment to the freshman than it is a demotion for Blue.
Andrei Greska, Marquette Tribune: False. Mayo is getting big minutes as is and brings a scoring spark off the bench. Buzz has always said it’s not about who starts the game but who finishes it. With that being said, with Blue seeming to slide into last year’s role and lose all confidence in his offense, a change may be needed in a few weeks to prevent getting in an early hole. Just not yet.
Cracked Sidewalks: False. But it’s pretty close. Over the last three games, Mayo’s game has reversed its slump while Blue’s contributions are struggling. I like Blue as the starter simply from a confidence level and ability to bring a player like Mayo off the bench.
Mike Nelson: False. I am typically an advocate to get your best players into the starting lineup. But in this case, I would leave Vander Blue as the third guard in Buzz Williams’ starting lineup. Blue’s offense has evaporated, but he still gets after it on the defensive end. With DJO, Crowder and Gardner in the starting lineup (three of Marquette’s four best offensive weapons) Marquette needs Mayo’s offense to come off the bench.
4. True or false: By season’s end, Jamil Wilson will be considered Marquette’s best defender.
Anonymous Eagle: True. We were all sure that Vander Blue was the lockdown defender that Marquette could throw at a number of different positions on the floor. But Vander’s seen his minutes slip the last four games, and not because of fouls, either. In the meantime, Wilson’s playing more minutes and with his extra size and at times freakish athleticism, I feel he’s going to be more and more of a impact player on defense as the season rolls on.
Mark Strotman, Marquette Tribune: True. Blue, Mayo and Crowder will give him a run for his money, but one positive to Otule’s injury has been the blossoming of Wilson. He’s still figuring out where he fits offensively, but on the other end he has been superb. He’s clearly more comfortable than he was even three weeks ago and I except that trend to continue upwards. His versatility to guard on the perimeter, battle inside and poke the ball away is Jimmy Butler-esque (on a lesser level, of course). He still needs to be more aggressive on the glass (10 defensive rebounds over the last seven games) but by the NCAA Tournament, Wilson will be the premier defender on Marquette.
Andrei Greska, Marquette Tribune: True. While he still needs work on rotations and weak-side help, Jamil’s athleticism and long arms make him deadly in the passing lanes and an absolutely tremendous shot blocker. He’s the best blocker on the team and 179th best in the country according to KenPom.com and can legitimately guard four positions. As he is getting more comfortable we get to see just what an asset he is on defense.
Cracked Sidewalks: False. Jae is so much better at defensive rebounding and steals. However, Jamil is settling into a more solid role on the team, especially with his contributions defensively in the post.
Mike Nelson: True. Wilson is Marquette’s best defender already. He’s an athletic 6-foot-7 switchable. He can battle inside with the Big East’s bigs or play on the wing amongst the Big East’s quickest men. Buzz raved out his ability to get after it in pick & roll defense – whether it be participating in the pick & roll or being there to help out. He has great instincts and uses his length better than anyone on this team
5. Would a record worse than 6-1 over the next seven games be considered a disappointment? (at Providence, vs. South Florida, at Villanova, vs. Seton Hall, at Notre Dame, at DePaul, vs. Cincinnati)
Anonymous Eagle: Everything between now and Feb. 11 against Cincinnati? Those all look like winnable games for Marquette. If Notre Dame continues to play as well as they have, losing in the Joyce Center wouldn’t be surprising. A quick glance at Villanova’s schedule says we’re playing them in Philadelphia at the Wells Fargo Center instead of in that bandbox of an on campus arena that they have. How about this: I think Marquette is capable of snagging one of the Big East Tournament’s double byes, and if it goes less than 6-1, that’s going to be hard to do.
Mark Strotman, Marquette Tribune: Yes. It’s a tall order to be sure, but welcome to the Big East. With so much parity in the conference, Marquette has an unbelievable chance to distinguish themselves as a “top four” team in the conference. Taking care of inferior teams on the road and splitting with Cincinnati and Seton Hall at home will do this. Marquette has found its identity after losing Otule and is finally playing more like it. Now it’s time to show it off by reeling off six of the next seven.
Andrei Greska, Marquette Tribune: No…ish. If Marquette were to go 5-2 in the next seven I wouldn’t be disappointed, although anything less than that would be. Trips to Villanova and Notre Dame won’t be easy, despite their underwhelming record, while Seton Hall and Cincy will put up a stern challenge at home. I see Marquette splitting those four in some form and winning the other three to finish 5-2 over the next seven games. That would leave the Golden Eagles at 9-4 in the Big East with a good shot at a double bye.
Cracked Sidewalks: No, and I could even argue that a record of 5-2 wouldn’t be a disappointment. Life is hard on the road, and four of our next seven games are on the road. Besides, until it’s figured out, the slow starts will continue to be an issue.
Mike Nelson: Not a disappointment. If Marquette loses more than two games during this stretch then it is a disappointment: Notre Dame, DePaul, USF, Villanova, and Providence need to be wins. The other two teams in that stretch are Cincinnati and Seton Hall. Cincinnati is a very, very losable game. The Bearcats just knocked off No. 13/11 Connecticut on the road 70-67 Wednesday night. Seton Hall has knocked over the likes of West Virginia and Connecticut.