Box scores can’t tell the whole story, and it’s not entirely fair to make assumptions about a team after 80 minutes of regular season play.
That being said, Marquette’s offense is clearly still a work in progress through two games; an offense that did enough to win against Colgate on Sunday, but almost cost them last night in a 64-53 win over Southeastern Louisiana.
The offense is still trying to find an identity without Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, and it won’t happen overnight. It may not even happen by Maui. But the more pressing concern is that, for the first time in Buzz Williams’ run as Marquette head coach, he’s severely limited on his backcourt options.
This was apparent Tuesday night when guard Trent Lockett, starting at the wing opposite Vander Blue, committed two fouls in an 11-second span following the under-12 media timeout. He went to the bench for the rest of the half, having played just three minutes. He subbed out for Jamil Wilson, who bumped Juan Anderson to the “three,” with Wilson moving to power forward.
In the three-minute span Anderson played the “three,” Marquette made just two-of-seven shots. The good news is Anderson made both those baskets — a fast-break lay-up and a 3-pointer from the top of the key — which is why he’s not necessarily the issue.
But looking at the bigger picture Tuesday night reveals much more.
When Marquette went with a “big” lineup — when the “three” was occupied by an inside-oriented wing (Anderson, Jamil Wilson, Steve Taylor Jr.) — the Golden Eagles shot 10-of-28 (35.7%) and scored 27 points in 16 minutes.
When Marquette had a “small” lineup in — the “three” being occupied by a perimeter-oriented wing (Lockett, Blue, Ferguson, Thomas) — the Golden Eagles were 12-of-24 (50%) and scored 37 points in 24 minutes.
This included the final 15 minutes of the game, when Marquette used a small lineup to go 9-of-14, scored 26 points to the Lions’ 16 and looked much crisper as a team, moving the ball around the perimeter and getting to the paint.
It’s no surprise that Marquette was a more efficient offense playing a smaller lineup, but the question is whether Marquette will, for the first time in a long time, have the luxury of depth to play “small.”
Marquette has made a living, specifically made back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances, on the core of its three-guard system that Williams has set up perfectly to succeed in his offense. And while Anderson, the first 2/3 off the bench through two games, has shown remarkable improvement and added comfort to his game, he changes the offense because he’s closer to a Jamil Wilson switchable than a Lockett switchable. That is, he hasn’t shown the ability to create his own shot or work off the dribble to get the ball in the lane.
Anderson is better served playing as a four, where he has shown impressive rebounding skills (nine on Sunday) and and added strength. His biceps won’t be mistaken for Crowder’s any time soon, but he seems to be holding his own. He’s a talent, but he needs to be utilized to maximize that skill.
But in this perfect world where Anderson were to play the four instead of the three, an ideal situation where Marquette tends be more efficient, someone has to prove they can man the “three” when one of Lockett or Blue takes a seat.
This is where Todd Mayo would have played a major role in 2012. Even T.J. Taylor, who transferred this summer, would have had a significant role as the first backcourt wing off the bench. Both players have good size for shooting guards and would have turned Marquette’s back court style into a similar look that it had last year with Johnson-Odom.
With Mayo or Taylor off the bench, Anderson stays as a perimeter threat who could complement Steve Taylor Jr. well on the second unit.
If Marquette wants to play small this year, it can ill-afford foul trouble to Blue or Lockett, and will have to rely on freshman Jamal Ferguson, who looks comfortable on the big stage despite not yielding much results, and Jake Thomas, who has done nothing to dispel the notion of his walk-on status from two seasons ago.
Both have talent, but there are doubts that either could log enough minutes to be considered rotation players in the “small” lineup (minus the Derrick Wilson/Cadougan rotation).
If Marquette plans to go small, it will need 35+ minutes per night from Lockett and Blue, or one of Ferguson to Thomas to prove they can stick in the rotation. If either of those two scenarios occur, the Golden Eagles are fine.
But until that happens, the Golden Eagles’ offense could struggle.