The five biggest takeaways from Maui

It would have been an impressive feat had Marquette run the table in Maui, so a 2-1 record is a positive in that regard. It’s unfortunate, however, that the lone loss came on a 30-foot, running one-hander from Rotnei Clarke at the buzzer. Marquette missed out on a chance to play No. 9 North Carolina, which also lost to Butler on Tuesday night.

But the Golden Eagles rebounded from the shocking loss, not an easy thing to do in a daily tournament setting, beating Mississippi State and USC on their way to a fifth-place finish. It would have been nice to play on the right side of the bracket this week, but Marquette took care of business as best they could. No shame in being beat on the shot of the year to date.

But other than learning that Rotnei Clarke would likely be taken first in a trick shot contest, Marquette also learned a bit about itself as a unit. Wins against Colgate and Southeast Louisiana weren’t good gauges for where the team stood, but three games in Maui paint a clearer picture. Here are the five most important things we learned about the Golden Eagles.

1. Jamil Wilson is the team’s go-to scorer

Wilson put up his worst performance in a Marquette uniform with a zero-point, three-rebound performance against Butler. He moved to the bench in the final two games, and scored 11 and 19 points, respectively, on 11-of-14 shooting. He made three 3-pointers against USC, and made all five free throws on the week. He isn’t Marquette’s best scorer or most efficient shooter (Gardner and Gardner), but when the Golden Eagles need a score, it’s obvious that Jamil Wilson is the first option.

2. Vander Blue’s jump shot is alive and well

We pointed out last week that, while Vander Blue’s jumper wasn’t falling, the form looked much improved from last season. That form turned into made baskets this week, as Blue went 5-of-9 from beyond the arc and made a handful of long jumpers. He made just 3-of-11 shots against USC, so it’s too early to jump to conclusions as him being a consistent scorer, but Blue is starting to get into a rhythm. Now the question becomes how bad is his knee sprain? With Florida and Wisconsin looming, his health will be key.

3. The defense still needs improvement

Numbers alone can’t be the only barometer for a defense, especially after Marquette played two rather inept offenses the last two days. We documented the last eight minutes of the Butler debacle, where Marquette failed to get even one stop late. Mississippi State didn’t have much of a prayer, but USC made eight 3-pointers this afternoon. Outside of Jamil Wilson, who had his share of struggles (Khyle Marshall), there weren’t any dominating defensive performances. The Butler second half stretch is cause for concern, and the hope is that improvement is made before the Florida and Wisconsin games.

4. Jake Thomas will be a valuable piece

Juan Anderson’s growth makes him a valuable commodity in the paint. With that being the case, Williams has used Jake Thomas and Jamal Ferguson as reserve backcourt members after Vander Blue and Trent Lockett. The freshman looks relaxed, but he hasn’t done enough to contribute to warrant major minutes going forward, though his ceiling looks high. Thomas is the real story here. He hasn’t done anything Earth-shattering and his defense is below-average, but the speed of the game hasn’t overwhelmed him and he proved his offensive worth with a 9-point effort against Mississippi State. As long as Todd Mayo is out there will be a spot in the rotation for No. 23.

5. Davante Gardner is rounding into a complete player

Amazingly, Davante Gardner’s offense seems to have improved from last year. His skill set hasn’t changed one bit, yet Gardner is much more agile in making cuts and using his pivot foot to get to the basket off fakes. He averaged 13 points on 9.3 shots per game. But his biggest improvement has been on the defensive end. Consider this stat: Gardner recorded a block in each game this week. Last year he blocked eight shots total, and never had two straight games with a rejection. His rebounding numbers are also improved, as he grabbed 11 defensive rebounds in Maui. Gardner is quickly becoming a star, even while playing less than 25 minutes in every game this season.

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