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Five Point Play V17: Seven-Game Winning Streak

It’s been three weeks and five days since the No. 15 Marquette Golden Eagles lost (19-4, 8-2 Big East). They’re on a seven-game winning streak.
Vander Blue recorded his best offensive performance in a Big East contest on Tuesday with his 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting and eight rebounds. DJO and Jae Crowder are playing some of their best basketball of the season.
The Golden Eagles are in second place in the Big East.
But Davante Gardner is day-to-day with a left knee sprain and Marquette has a Notre Dame team that’s one game behind the Golden Eagles in the standings. The Fighting Irish are tough at home (11-1 overall, 3-1 Big East).
Thankfully DePaul (11-10, 2-7 Big East) is on the horizon Monday.
1. Can Marquette maintain its double-bye position (top-four in the Big East standings) if Davante misses the rest of the Big East season? 
Andrei Greska, Marquette Tribune: Yes. Marquette will definitely miss Davante and struggle without him, but the schedule is favorable and more importantly, the teams behind the Golden Eagles aren’t world beaters themselves. Splitting the last eight games, which I think is realistic with three home games and a trip to DePaul left, would leave MU at 12-6. Dropping out of the top four at 12-6 will be very unlikely in a relatively down year for the BEast.
Mark Freund, MUTV Sports: Even without Davante Gardner’s services, Marquette should be able to stay in the top four in the Big East standings. Just looking purely at history, the odds favor the Golden Eagles. They are currently 8-2, good for second place in the Big East. Last year, a fourth place finish was a 12-6 conference record. Marquette could finish the year 4-4 and still earn a 12-6 record and that coveted double-bye in the Big East Championship tournament.
Mike Wottreng, WMUR Sports: It’s possible they could finish top four because there are not two other teams in the conference that have stepped up, but it is highly unlikely. Every team in the Big East has a post presence that can be efficient each night, especially the remaining teams on the Golden Eagles schedule.  Gardner isn’t known for his defense, but he is the lone guy left  has the strength to bang with Big East big men for 40 minutes.
Mark Strotman, Marquette Tribune: I don’t think so. Aside from losing its best interior scorer and ANOTHER low-post defender, if Gardner is out Marquette will play with a seven or eight man rotation, including Derrick Wilson and Juan Anderson. By the end of Tuesday night’s win, the team was exhausted. It’s one thing to play 40 minutes and pull out a win with a shorthanded roster, but doing it eight more times and finishing with a top four record? No.
Mike Nelson, Marquette Tribune: No. Davante has a serious case to be considered Marquette’s most valuable player with Chris Otule done for the year. Davante is Marquette’s No. 3 offensive threat and when he gets going he’s near unstoppable. His rebounding, size and improving defense will all be missed. If Davante is out the rest of the Big East season I only see two certain victories (DePaul and Rutgers). A single bye will still happen without Davante but see ya later double-bye!
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2. In Davante’s absence, who does MU need to step up most? 
Andrei Greska, Marquette Tribune: Jamil Wilson. He has been stepping up already even with Gardner healthy as witnessed by his 16 point seven assist performance at Providence. He has played a little bit over 29 minutes per game since then and seems to have gained confidence in his shot. Not only will he be needed as a middle man to break up zones, but his length and athleticism will need to grab a few more boards per game to make up for the loss of the ox-in-the-box.
Mark Freund, MUTV Sports: Jamil Wilson. The Golden Eagles need Wilson to be more aggressive under the basket, as he is the only guy on the roster that is not already playing substantial minutes and can provide the type of length that can contest the likes of Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates, UConn’s Alex Oriakhi, and West Virginia’s Kevin Jones, all big men that Marquette still has to play against.
Mike Wottreng, WMUR Sports: The obvious choice is Jamil Wilson, but not for him to score.  He needs to rebound the basketball better.  In the last six games, he averaged only 4.0 rebounds per game in 28.0 minutes per game. Marquette gives up enough offensive rebounds as it is, but if Wilson cannot step up, second chance points may be the demise for MU.  Wilson has proved to be a good shot blocker, averaging just over two blocks a game in the last six games. Wilson does things defensively that don’t always show up in the stat sheet, but he has to rebound better.
Mark Strotman, Marquette Tribune: This is an easy one: Jamil Wilson. If he thought his job got more difficult following Chris Otule’s injury, he was just thrust into the starting lineup and asked to play 30 minutes a night. Jae Crowder obviously needs to continue his stellar performance, but it’s going to be hard for him to “step up” from his already incredible output. However, Wilson now must worry about staying out of foul trouble, becoming more of a threat offensively and playing extra minutes. As big of an opportunity as he got when Otule went down, Wilson can make some serious progression if Gardner is out an extended period of time.

Mike Nelson, Marquette Tribune: Vander Blue. I wanted to say Jamil, but I noticed my colleagues all said Jamil so I’m going to stir the pot. Crowder, Blue and Buzz all talked about missing Davante on the glass in Tuesday’s contest. Blue said he went out of his way to be more active on the glass Tuesday and proved he can be an effective rebounder. While Jamil will have to step up defensively on the interior, MU needs Davante’s boards to be accumulated by someone else and Blue needs to step up since he won’t consistently step up offensively like he did Tuesday.

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Photo by Rebecca Rebholz

3. Has Vander Blue turned a corner or was Tuesday night an aberration? 

Andrei Greska, Marquette Tribune: I don’t think he has turned the corner quite yet as he has played under 20 minutes in four of the last six games, but he is playing with much more confidence after hitting those four free throws at Nova. For a player of his nature whose shot is still a work in progress, that makes all the difference. It’s not just the scoring though. He was relentless on the glass on Tuesday and was as tenacious as ever on D.
Mark Freund, MUTV Sports: It’s not all about the points for Vander Blue. Earlier in the season, Buzz Williams said he wanted Blue to get more offensive rebounds. He did that against Seton Hall, with five of his eight boards coming on the offensive end. Blue struggled with consistency earlier in the season, but he’s starting to hit his free throw attempts, and with offensive rebounds come more opportunities to score the basketball for him and his teammates.
Mike Wottreng, WMUR Sports: If the question is about Vander and his offense, then Tuesday was just an aberration.  It was the first time he scored in double figures since Dec. 17 vs. Northern Colorado, a span of 12 games.  Blue averaged 4.4 points and shot 32 percent from the floor (17-of-53) in that span.  It was only the second time he scored in double figures in a Big East game (the first being last year, when he dropped 12 in a 30-point blowout of DePaul).  His offense may energize him elsewhere, but unless he can piece together a few double-digit scoring games, this is an anomaly.
Mark Strotman, Marquette Tribune: I believe Blue when he says he is beginning to gain more confidence. That free throw shooting down the stretch against Villanova may have been a turning point on the season for Blue when we look back. He is understanding the value of a good possession, isn’t taking bad shots and is using his speed to create for himself and others. More importantly, Blue has been the best rebounding guard on the team and, with Gardner out, Marquette needs him more than ever. It may not be 16 points and eight rebounds every night, but Blue will deliver.
Mike Nelson, Marquette Tribune: Not offensively. His shot is still unreliable, but the previous two contests are HUGE for Vander gaining more confidence in himself. He sunk four free throws with the game on the line against Villanova, entering the contest as a 62 percent free throw shooter, and then he stepped up both offensively and on the glass Tuesday without Davante. Both games will help Vander feel more confident out on the floor which can only help Marquette come March.
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4. Who is your MVP (MVP = most VALUABLE, not most talented)?
Andrei Greska, Marquette Tribune: Jae Crowder over DJO by a hair. I was undecided about this until Tuesday night when Crowder was battling for position with Seton Hall’s Herb Pope then switching onto Theodore seamlessly. He is just so versatile, guarding all five positions, not to mention how well he protects the ball —37th best according to KenPom. He has also averaged 16.7 points and 8.1 rebounds during Marquette’s winning streak. At the end of the day, losing Crowder would decimate MU more than losing DJO, making him my MVP.
Mark Freund, MUTV Sports: The popular answer here might be Darius Johnson-Odom, but I don’t think there’s any question that Marquette’s MVP this season has been Jae Crowder. He has seven double-doubles, while the rest of the team has three combined. When both Chris Otule and Davante Gardner went down, Crowder has done anything Buzz Williams has asked of him. He is one of the most versatile players in the Big East, and he has been consistent all season.
Mike Wottreng, WMUR Sports: Davante has to be the most irreplaceable player on this team for a multitude of reasons. Without him Marquette only has two players capable of playing significant minutes in the post: Jae and Jamil.  Neither of those two players give the Golden Eagles much of a presence from block to block and if Marquette has to play Juan Anderson and Jamail Jones more than a few minutes a game, teams will exploit that weakness.  It would be incredibly tough to replace DJO or Jae but without Davante, teams will get more easy buckets than they already get.
Mark Strotman, Marquette Tribune: Junior Cadougan. Marquette’s one big question mark entering the season was depth at point guard. Well, Cadougan’s play has made it so that Marquette doesn’t need any depth. He’s averaging 29.3 minutes in Big East play and his assist rate (34.3) is one of the best marks in the country. He’s the main reason Marquette’s assists-per-field goal rate is 66.4, third in the nation. His defense has been superb lately, as well. Here’s the final point: Marquette is 14-0 when Cadougan records six or more assists. Sounds valuable to me.
Mike Nelson, Marquette Tribune: In terms of pure value it has to be Jae Crowder, given the way this season has gone. He has really stepped up as a defensive presence this year, as was on display Tuesday against Herb Pope, and still is a proficient scorer (seventh in the Big East at 16.6 per game). With Chris Otule’s injury and now Davante’s injury, Marquette’s also needed a more active Crowder on the glass (7.6 per, 10th best in Big East). MU wouldn’t be where it is without Crowder — although strong cases for MVP can be made for Davante, DJO, and Junior Cadougan.
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5. Scores for the ND/DePaul contests & why? And what you’re going to be watching closest in those contests.
Andrei Greska, Marquette Tribune: 59-52 ND Saturday, 78-70 MU Monday. Missing Gardner leaves little to no margin for error for Crowder, who is prone to getting in foul trouble. Should Crowder spend more than seven minutes on the bench, it’s tap city in South Bend. As for the DePaul game, let’s face it. The Blue Demons may not be God-awful but they are still pretty darn bad. The Allstate Arena may be the home of some bad memories for Buzz’ crew, but the KenPom gives MU an 84% chance of winning so that’s good enough for me.
Mark Freund, MUTV Sports: Marquette could run into problems with Notre Dame. The last time Notre Dame played a team that was missing its starting center, it beat top-ranked Syracuse. Notre Dame forward Jack Cooley, a very physical forward, could provide a lot of trouble in the paint, and the Irish feature great balance. I think the Golden Eagles drop this contest in South Bend, 75-71. Marquette should be able to take care of DePaul on Monday, however, 77-62.
Mike Wottreng, WMUR Sports: I thought Notre Dame would be terrible when it lost Tim Abromaitis, but the Fighting Irish have been fantastic at home this year (11-1).  If Davante does not play, Jack Cooley could dominate inside. Notre Dame 58-54.
Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young are as good of scoring duo as there is in the Big East, but who else can they count on for consistent points.  Melvin will have a field day even if Gardner does play.  We all remember the fiasco two years ago when DePaul improbably upset the Golden Eagles. For some reason, Marquette doesn’t dominate DePaul in Rockford as much as it should, but I think it wins, but not easily. Marquette 77 DePaul 68.
Mark Strotman, Marquette Tribune:Notre Dame 64, Marquette 60 on Saturday. I do not expect Davante Gardner to play and, in a game like this, that will crush Marquette. I’ll be watching to see how Marquette responds on the road to a quality opponent when the going gets tough (in other words, when it inevitably falls behind early). Marquette 90, DePaul 65 on Monday. Sorry, Blue Demons. You’ll be catching Marquette coming off its first loss in seven games looking to come out strong. DePaul plays one of the fastest games in the country and that is going to play right into Marquette’s hands. I’ll be looking for an all-around, 40-minute dominating performance. Marquette hasn’t had one in quite some time, and DePaul is the team to do it against.

Mike Nelson, Marquette Tribune: 66-61 Notre Dame, 92-75 MU over DePaul. Notre Dame is a strange team that was supposed to be dead without Tim Abromaitis. But coach Mike Brey has the Fighting Irish playing well, and the slower pace won’t help given that Davante is unlikely to play. If MU can play the slow down game without Davante then it could surprise and pull it out. DePaul has made itself fodder since it entered the Big East, and Marquette should feast like kings on Monday. Expect a high-paced and active game.

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Categories: Five Point Play

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