Five Point Play: Big East tournament preview edition

It’s been a while, but we’re back.

The debut of the new Big East tournament begins Wednesday and we felt that warranted a Five Point Play.

It’s been some time since Marquette has been so far removed from NCAA Tournament consideration when the annual trip to Madison Square Garden rolls around.

The Golden Eagles need to win the tournament to make the dance and their push toward that goal begins with Xavier at 8:30 p.m. Thursday on Fox Sports 1.

Marquette (17-14, 9-9 Big East) and Xavier (20-11, 10-8 Big East) split their season series, 1-1, with each time winning on its home floor.

The Golden Eagles took the most recent game, 81-72, on Feb. 15 while the Musketeers secured victory, 86-79, on Jan. 9.

Both teams are on losing streaks entering the tournament (Marquette three, Xavier two), which makes this game that much more important to Xavier, which could use a win to solidify its place in the NCAA Tournament.

The winner will face the winner of Creighton vs. Georgetown/DePaul.

With that in mind, here’s a look at Marquette’s Big East tournament prospects:

1. What most concerns you about Marquette’s play entering the Big East tournament?

Andrei Greska, Paint Touches: Is the fact that Marquette won’t be dancing barring a miracle an appropriate response? What about the fact it comes in riding a three-game losing streak in three must-win games? Oh, that and the defense is as meager as the offense.

Mark Strotman, Paint Touches: That for the first time since I began covering the team (2009), no one “stepped up” and rode Marquette off the bubble and into the NCAA Tournament. Apologies for the cliche, but this team has been full of disappointment all year. There’s no real reason to believe that magic is going to occur in New York; that time passed sometime in December.

Matt Trebby, The Seattle Times: This season, Marquette hasn’t found a rhythm offensively. In order to win a conference tournament, there have to be certain players that step up and deliver quality performances multiple nights in a row. Outside of a promising three-game stretch for Jamil Wilson this season, Davante Gardner appears to be the only Golden Eagle that the team goes to for buckets. That’s not good.

Michael LoCicero, Paint Touches: Inconsistency. It’s been the theme of the season. Marquette hasn’t really lost a game it shouldn’t have lost (with the exception of Butler), but doesn’t have a marquee win either. That equates to an average team, which Marquette has been all year. The up-and-down play of Jamil Wilson and Davante Gardner has been this team’s undoing and I don’t see that changing much in New York.

Mike Nelson, Paint Touches: The inability to finish games. Marquette put itself in position to win at Providence and against St. John’s down the stretch but was unable to pull out a “W” in either game. Marquette choked away the Providence game and settled for a Derrick Wilson and jumper to decide the loss to the Red Storm. Marquette’s going to have to break through in a tight one or two to succeed in New York. Will it be possible with little experience doing it up to this point? 

2. What gets you excited about Marquette’s chances to be dangerous at Madison Square Garden?

Andrei Greska, Paint Touches: The fact that I won’t be there. Seriously. I got to go to two games this year at MSG against St. John’s and at Nova. Both were slaughters. Me not attending at least means it will be a close loss, whenever it comes.

Mark Strotman, Paint Touches: Buzz Williams. It’s been a rough go for him trying to figure out the correct rotations and coaching to his players’ skillsets, but lest we forget he’s still one of the best in the business. He’s as embarrassed by the season to date as anyone, and I would put it past him out-coaching the field and finding a way to get Marquette to Saturday. It’s a long shot to be sure, but we’re talking about one of the best minds in the game. He’s got it in him if his players can carry out his gameplans (there wasn’t a font size big enough to write the word “if” in).

Matt Trebby, The Seattle Times: I can’t think of a single thing that makes me excited about the Golden Eagles’ prospects at MSG. I wish I did, but there’s nothing that makes me think they have a run in them. They’ve yet to really perform well in conference tournaments under Buzz Williams, and for the reasons I mentioned above there is no reason to believe they can put together a stretch of games that would deliver a championship at MSG.

Michael LoCicero, Paint Touches: The overall parity of the teams seeded 3-7. Nobody should question that Villanova and Creighton have been the top two teams in the conference all year, but you could argue that Marquette should have beaten Villanova once and at least hung with Creighton for 35 minutes in Milwaukee. On a neutral court, who knows what can happen. But they have to beat Xavier first.

Mike Nelson, Paint Touches: The offensive outbursts of Todd Mayo and Davante Gardner. The duo is averaging 16.4 and 18.4 points per game, respectively, over Marquette’s final five regular season games (up from 15.1 and 11.0 on the season). It still is unlikely to carry Marquette to the promised land at MSG. 

3. Which player is most likely to dictate how far Marquette goes in the Big East tournament?

Andrei Greska, Paint Touches: Todd Mayo. He’s the only guard able to create his own shot. He’s been coming on strong at the end of the season. If he fades, it’s blouses. If he continues his improved play, at least it will be interesting.

Mark Strotman, Paint Touches: Jamil Wilson was the answer four months ago, but my record has been broken every time someone asks me this question since the year began; it just hasn’t happened for him this year, and there’s no point in believing it will happen now. So I’ll go with Derrick Wilson. It won’t show up in the box score, but he needs to command Marquette on offense and limit silly mistakes (see: Junior Cadougan throwing passes into the 10th row of MSG two years ago). When Derrick plays well everything seems to slow down for the rest of the team. That’s key in tournament play. Whether it happens is another story, but his control on both ends will mean a ton.

Matt Trebby, The Seattle Times: Jamil Wilson. When he scores they are a much better team and Davante Gardner can’t carry the load by himself. There aren’t many other difference makers on this team, also. Todd Mayo is the only other potential answer to this question, possibly Jake Thomas. I think Wilson needs to step up and probably wants to end his Marquette career on a higher note than he has.

Michael LoCicero, Paint Touches: Jamil Wilson. All season, we’ve been waiting for Jamil to break out and become the star player he has the potential to be. He has shown flashes but has never really put it together. Perhaps seeing the possibility of his collegiate career coming to an end will motivate the uber-talented forward to play his best ball and carry MU to three wins. Perhaps.

Mike Nelson, Paint Touches: Todd Mayo. He’s scored 57 points over the past three games (19.0 ppg) and is the lone guard who can consistently create and make his own shot. Buzz Williams acknowledged his absence from the end of the St. John’s game affected the play he drew up, implying Mayo was the man he wanted with the ball with the game on the line. That’s a big vote of confidence in the junior, who may be turning a corner offensively or could just be teasing us again. 

4. What’s the final score and why between Marquette and Xavier? 

Andrei Greska, Paint Touches: Marquette 85, Xavier 80. With no Matt Stainbrook to at least make Davante Gardner sweat a bit, he will have his way down low. Semaj Christon will keep things interesting, but Marquette prevails in the final minute. Defense is optional.

Mark Strotman, Paint Touches: Marquette 74, Xavier 58. Because of my answer in the second question, I expect Marquette to roll against Xavier. With Matt Stainbrook out Buzz will be able to gamplan for a big day from Davante Gardner, stingy defense on Semaj Christon and (hopefully) good outside looks like they got at home against the Musketeers. 

Matt Trebby, The Seattle Times: Xavier 75, Marquette 64. The Musketeers committed 19 turnovers when they lost in Milwaukee, and I believe it’s probably quite unlikely that will happen again. Xavier has a few more impressive wins than Marquette away from home, too, so I see Chris Mack’s bunch being able to adjust better away from its respective home area.

Michael LoCicero, Paint Touches: Marquette 82, Xavier 78. If not for a stand out performance from Semaj Christon in Cincinnati, Marquette could have won both games against the Musketeers this year. With the news that Matt Stainbrook will miss Thursday’s game, the Golden Eagles have a much better chance of taking care of business, if it can keep Christon under wraps like they did in Milwaukee.

Mike Nelson, Paint Touches: Marquette 78, Xavier 74. Davante Gardner will have an opportunity for a big game as Xavier big man Matt Stainbrook (6-10, 263 pounds; 10.8 points, 7.8 rebounds per game) isn’t expected to play. Todd Mayo should continue his recent offensive streak and hand Xavier its third straight loss. 

5. How far will Marquette advance in the tournament and why?

Andrei Greska, Paint Touches: Semifinal loss to Creighton because this team is not built to defend a team with five shooters, let alone ones with the caliber of McBuckets and Ethan Wragge. Marquette isn’t getting past Creighton. End of story.

Mark Strotman, Paint Touches: The Golden Eagles will get smacked by Creighton. It’s hard to beat a three times, yes. But it’s even harder to beat Doug McDermott once.

Matt Trebby, The Seattle Times: They’ll play one game and then be flying back to Milwaukee on Friday – Saturday if they want an extra vacation in New York City. Xavier beat them more decisively on their respective home court and the Golden Eagles haven’t impressed me on a neutral floor or away from home yet this season.

Michael LoCicero: Paint Touches: I think it stops after the win against Xavier. Assuming Creighton beats Georgetown, it will set up a third meeting between the Bluejays and Golden Eagles. Marquette simply doesn’t have enough offensive firepower to take down Creighton. Marquette keeps it close, like always, but will bow out and head to the NIT.

Mike Nelson, Paint Touches: Semifinals. Marquette hasn’t had much luck with Creighton (who I expect to be waiting in the semis) this season. The two losses have been by an average of 16.5 points. Doug McDermott will shine on the big stage of MSG and Ethan Wragge and company will make it rain threes on Marquette. 

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