Much has been made this season about Marquette’s impressive home winning streak. The Golden Eagles have won all 13 games at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in 2012-’13, and the current 22-game winning streak is fourth best in the country, behind Syracuse (37), South Dakota State (28) and Colorado State (26).
It’s an impressive feat, as the list and ranking should tell. Kansas (33 straight home wins) lost earlier this year to Oklahoma State; Indiana (18 straight) lost at home to the same Wisconsin team Marquette beat at home; even Kentucky’s 55-game home winning streak came to an end in December.
Marquette is in prime position to make its eighth straight NCAA Tournament appearance — four total wins before Selection Sunday should make them essential locks — and its home record is a major reason why. But when the Golden Eagles walk off the court after a March 2 tilt with Notre Dame, they’ll be on the road the rest of the way. And that could spell doom.
The Golden Eagles are 4-6 away from Milwaukee (Maui included), but it sure seems a lot worse than that. And that’s because, while they can’t altogether be taken out of the equation, three of those wins came against Mississippi State, Southern Cal and South Florida, who have a combined record of 28-41.
Assuming Marquette can nab a double-bye in the Big East Tournament, their neutral site opponents in the postseason will be NCAA Tournament locks or, after Selection Sunday, Tournament teams themselves.
Rotnei Clarke and Butler won on a buzzer-beater from 35 feet out, but remember Marquette did not make a defensive stop in the final eight minutes.
Against then-No. 7 Florida, the game was over 15 minutes in.
The team hit rock-bottom in a stunning 49-47 loss at Wisconsin-Green Bay, a team that has lost at home this year to Wright State and Cal State Fullerton.
A 15-point first half at Cincinnati required a Herculean effort to force overtime.
After losing three straight, Louisville only needed one half to create a double-digit lead over Marquette that it would never lose.
And last night in Georgetown, the Golden Eagles made a field goal just one more time (20) than they turned the ball over to the Hoyas (19).
Simply put, when the Golden Eagles are challenged on the road they have succumbed to the pressure. It’s not just losses; it’s how they’ve lost.
Just this past weekend we wrote on how the Golden Eagles are rolling through February with a “March focus” and how roles on the team were being finalized, but the reality is it won’t mean much if they soil the bed on the road.
In their six non-home losses, the Golden Eagles are averaging 14.8 turnovers, and shooting 28.1 percent from beyond the arc on just 4.5 makes per game.
Marquette’s two biggest Achilles heels this season — turnover percentage and outside shooting — rear its ugly heads when they travel away from Milwaukee.
Of course the one road game not mentioned yet is Pittsburgh, where Marquette was better in both departments — making 5-of-15 3-pointers and committing 12 turnovers in a solid overtime win — but the overall theme is that Marquette has yet to show they can compete on the road.
Of the top 10 teams in the Big East, based on standings, only Marquette (4-6) and St. John’s (5-6) have non-home records below .500. Not surprising, these also were the two teams with the easiest first half conference schedules, and whose early records may have been misleading.
Marquette has three ranked opponents left to play, all at home. However, at Villanova (Feb. 23), at Rutgers (March 5) and at St. John’s (March 9) aren’t pushovers. The Golden Eagles will go into postseason play with an overtime win at Pittsburgh as their only quality road win, leaving plenty of uncertainties about how far they can conceivably go in both tournaments.
Marquette has taken care of business at home, including wins over Wisconsin, Connecticut and Georgetown, and is still without a bad loss in conference play. But, as we pointed out two weeks ago, the road was about to get tougher.
Can they handle the road?
We may to have until the postseason — when it counts — to know that answer.