Five Point Play V14: Limping Golden Eagles draw struggling Pitt

After Wednesday’s 83-64 victory over St. John’s the Marquette Golden Eagles (, the two game losing streak was over, and Marquette is now .500 in conference. But that victory came on the back end of losses in three of its previous four contests and some of its worst basketball of the year.

With redshirt junior center Chris Otule out for the year, officially, and Marquette still shaky without him, the Pittsburgh Panthers (11-6, 0-4) roll into Milwaukee Saturday for an early afternoon battle between two of the better Big East programs.

1. It’s been a tale of two halves the previous two Big East games against Syracuse and Georgetown. Which Marquette team is the real one: the first half against Georgetown and second half against Syracuse or the first half against Syracuse and second half against Georgetown?

Matt Trebby, WMUR Sports/Marquette Tribune: The real one right now is the team that doesn’t know how to play 40 minutes. As evidence of its last three games, Marquette is still figuring it out. There are too many reasons for it, but the main one for me is that it just isn’t aggressive enough throughout the whole game.

Mike Singer, CBSSports: Marquette is neither as good as it was when building a 17-point lead at Georgetown nor as bad as they were when going down by 23 to Syracuse. When assessing those two games, I think you just need to
look at it as a whole. They weren’t supposed to win either won of
them, yet scared two top-10 teams and didn’t quit vs. Syracuse-
something we saw vs. Vanderbilt as well.

Tess Quinlan, MUTV Sports: If I were a casual Marquette fan who only watched its national TV games, I would think it is the second team that played in the first half of Syracuse and second half of Georgetown.  But I’m not, so I know this team is the first option.  Marquette generated offense and created transition opportunities vs. Wisconsin and Washington.  It can play with the best in the Big East.

Anonymous Eagle: Stick with me here, this might get complicated. The good team is the real one. We already broke down some stats on our blog [LINK:], and I think this is what I can take away from that: Marquette is very, very good when all cylinders are firing, but it’s fairly easy to stop that from happening.

Mike Nelson, Marquette Tribune: It’s a happy medium. Somewhere in between those two points is the true Marquette squad. Marquette appeared too content with its 17-point lead at Georgetown and looked flustered when Georgetown made its run and just had no response. These were two road battles against two top-10 teams and although Marquette was unable to come away with a victory, it showed that it can play with the best of the Big East.

2. Having lost three of the last four games, what’s the No. 1 thing Marquette needs to improve upon?

Matt Trebby: Controlled aggression. They need to figure out how to get into the paint to get easy baskets, and not draw any stupid offensive fouls or turn the ball over. They’re at the point where this shouldn’t be too difficult, but against Georgetown and Syracuse, they were out of control at times.

Mike Singer: In the last three losses, the team has averaged 15.3 turnovers, a
trend that can’t continue. Minus the 3 losses, the team was averaging
12.6 turnovers a game. While Marquette wouldn’t necessarily have
capitalized, the Golden Eagles lost by 1 possession to Georgetown and
3 possessions to Syracuse.  In the last two games, Junior Cadougan has
turned it over 6 times, albeit with 5 assists and his best half of the
season vs. Syracuse and against Georgetown, Mayo had 6 turnovers

Tess Quinlan: The inconsistency is their biggest problem. DJO will have a big game, but Todd Mayo will score 2 points or vice versa. This team has a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hide problem.  The Dr. Jekyll, or the “good”, team played against Wisconsin and the second half of Syracuse.  The Mr. Hyde, or the “evil” team, was outscored by Vanderbilt 29-6 in the first half. The Golden Eagles just have to get rid of Mr. Hyde and they will be successful.

Anonymous Eagle: Not playing top 10 teams. Yeah, I know, Vanderbilt wasn’t even ranked at the time of the game. But it started the season No. 7 in the country, and the game against Marquette was the first time all season it really had the team everyone expected to see on the floor at the same time. But most teams aren’t going to beat top 10 teams, especially on the road. So just avoid those guys and everything will be fine.

Seriously, though, defense. I don’t care what aspect of defense. Improve something. Even when they were rolling against Georgetown and Syracuse, they were allowing an eFG% of 47.9% and 0.91 points per possession.

Mike Nelson: Ball movement. Looking at the two recent road contests, Marquette was at its best when it was playing selfless basketball with players creating opportunities for each other. Marquette’s assist to turnover ratio in the two halves it won against Georgetown, Syracuse and Vanderbilt was 30:13. The halves it lost the ratio was 11:33. I think the numbers speak for themselves as to why Marquette struggled.

3. Now that we know Chris Otule is out for the year and given Marquette’s recent struggles, where will this team finish in the Big East?

Matt Trebby: They’ll finish in 5th. Their next 9 games or so are all ones they can win. They do have a fairly tough schedule to finish the season, but I still think that they’ll be able to pull out enough victories to go 12-6, and get a bye in the Big East tournament.

Mike Singer: Marquette will finish third, fourth or fifth, an important distinction given that the top four teams get byes through the first two rounds of the Big East tournament. Syracuse and UConn will be the top-two teams while
Georgetown, West Virginia, and Marquette will battle for the other two
spots.  Marquette now begins an extremely favorable part to its
schedule and could legitimately reel off 10 straight wins. This is,
obviously, a best-case scenario and rugged Big East basketball could
derail all of this, just ask Louisville.

Tess Quinlan: Fifth or sixth. It is an all-around weird year in the Big East, which is why the loss of Otule won’t hurt as much. Pittsburgh has no conference wins and Villanova is in the basement of the league. Syracuse is the indisputable number one team in the Big East. Georgetown, Cincinnati and Connecticut are on a roll.  Those are the only teams I can see ahead of the Golden Eagles in March.

Anonymous Eagle: HA! You expect this to make sense at this point? The current top four in the Big East: Syracuse, Seton Hall, Cincinnati, Notre Dame. I’m not making this up. [LINK:] I mean, Providence beat Louisville by THIRTY-ONE on Tuesday night. I’ll say this: Given the way this conference is going, Marquette is capable of finishing top four. But Georgetown/Syracuse efforts have to stop for that to happen.

Mike Nelson: Fourth or fifth. Marquette is still an extremely talented team led by two strong seniors in DJO and Jae Crowder. Buzz Williams won’t let his team feel sorry for itself with this loss, it’ll continue to work its tail off and be one of the better teams in the conference. The Big East is in a down year, granted any year would be considered down after what transpired last season, and Marquette will compete for a double-bye in the Big East Championship.

4. Which team needs this win more, Pittsburgh or Marquette?

Matt Trebby: Pittsburgh. The Panthers shot 21 percent against Rutgers, and only made 12 field goals! That sucks! There still is talent there, so if they want to make a late season run, a win against Marquette seems like the perfect way to start it.

Mike Singer: Pitt needs this win more than Marquette because it is currently 0-3 in the Big East (facing Rutgers on Wed.) and faces Marquette, Louisville,
Georgetown, Providence and West Virginia in its next six games.
However, Marquette knows this is a game it has to have if it seeks a
top-four seed in the Big East tournament.

Tess Quinlan: Pittsburgh. The Panthers are on a five game losing steak and got walloped by surprising Big East contender, Rutgers.  With wins over Tennessee and Oklahoma State, this Jamie Dixon team is not “bad,” just lost. It needs a win in the Big East to boost its confidence. After coming to Milwaukee, Pittsburgh heads to Syracuse and the Carrier Dome, a much harder place to play than the Bradley Center.

Anonymous Eagle: Pitt, and it’s not even close. Even when you take into account that Marquette cannot afford to lose to a team that just shot 21.1% AT HOME AGAINST RUTGERS, Pitt hasn’t won a game in conference play yet and that makes it much more important for the Panthers.

Mike Nelson: Pittsburgh. The Panthers are still winless in Big East play (0-4) and coming off a 62-39 loss to Rutgers AT HOME. With two of Pittsburgh’s four losses coming to traditional bottom feeders in the Big East in recent years (Rutgers and DePaul), the Panthers need to get a W into their Big East record and fast.

5. Who wins Saturday, the score, and what’s the key to the game?

Matt Trebby: Marquette wins, 81-60. To win, the Golden Eagles have to do the two things that made them dominate St. John’s in the second half: score in transition, and get into the paint. They should be able to do both things with relative ease against the struggling (that’s an understatement) Panthers.

Mike Singer: Marquette will win 79-72 and the key will be rebounding. Pitt leads the Big East with 40.2 boards per game in Big East play.  The Golden Eagles will need to keep Gardner out of foul trouble so that he can deal with pesky Nasir Robinson- who is an excellent offensive rebounder. They’ll
obviously also need to check Ashton Gibbs, something Vander Blue
should do admirably.

Tess Quinlan: Marquette, 77-63.  The key will be rebounding. Pittsburgh is tied for 12th in the country in rebounding, averaging 40.5 a game, while Marquette is 98th with 36.7 rebounds a game. Davante Gardner, Jae Crowder and Jamil Wilson will have to be very active on the glass, especially on the defensive end.  Otherwise, Pittsburgh will have a field day with second chance points.

Anonymous Eagle: Marquette by 12. The key to the game is consistency on both ends of the floor and not letting one end affect the effort on the other end.

Mike Nelson: 78-68 Marquette. The battle on the boards is the key to watch particular to this matchup, as Pittsburgh is the Big East’s best rebounding team (40.5 boards per game), and Marquette’s still trying to adjust to the loss of Otule on the glass. But this is a game where Marquette needs to get back to playing its game: an up and down the court, fast paced game with teammates creating for each other rather than creating for themselves. Given Pittsburgh’s struggles this should be a victory. But if Marquette’s not at its best then this will turn be a loss.

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