Marquette didn’t have to travel far after suffering a two-point loss at Arizona State on Monday night, preparing to square off against Cal-State Fullerton in the bracket’s opening round of the Wooden Legacy.
Playing without leading scorer Todd Mayo, the Golden Eagles hung with the 6-0 Sun Devils and actually took the lead in the second half after trailing by as many as 15 before halftime. But missed shots from Jake Thomas and Derrick Wilson in the final 30 seconds sealed the victory for Herb Sendek’s group, and leaving Marquette at 3-2 for the first time in a long time to begin a season.
Up next is a date with the Titans, who enter Thursday’s matchup at 2-3, riding a two-game losing streak. That included, most recently, a 22-point defeat at San Jose State on the heels of a 14-point loss at Southern Cal. While the Titans aren’t world beaters, they’ll still have the comfort of playing in their own building, Titan Gym, as the host school of the Wooden Legacy.
Without knowing too much about the CS-Fullerton personnel, let’s take a look at their top three scorers.
Leading scorer Alex Harris has missed the last two games with an ankle injury after averaging 17.7 points on 53 percent shooting through three games. The 6-foot-1 guard also led the team with 2.7 assists per game and connected on a team-best eight 3-pointers. Whether or not he can go will be a deciding factor on how close the Titans can stay with Marquette.
San Francisco transfer Michael Williams leads the Titans in field-goal attempts (64) but it shooting just 40.6 percent. The 6-foot-2 senior has scored in double-digits in every game this season, including a 17-points outing in a loss to Seattle.
After playing just six games in his first year with the Titans, senior Marquis Horne has been playing well. He’s averaging 10.6 points on 50 percent shooting and 4.8 rebounds in just 26 minutes per game, solid numbers for the 6-foot-6 former JuCo.
6-foot-9 freshman Joe Boyd is another name to keep an eye on, as he’s averaging a team-best 5.8 rebounds in 20.8 minutes per game. His 24.4 rate on the defensive glass is the 83rd best mark in the country. Staying in the rebounding department, junior Steven McClellan has the 23rd best offensive rebounding rate in the country (18.8). For reference, Davante Gardner’s current O-reb rate is 9.5.
WHAT THE TITANS DO WELL
— Home-court advantage: This isn’t really something a team does well, but it’s helpful to be playing at a tournament in your own building, especially one with just 4,000 seats. They’re sure to have a good turnout from local fans, so it’s something Marquette may have to deal with in the early going.
— 3-point shooting: The Titans are ranked 78th in 3-point field-goal percentage (37.9%) and are led by their top four outside shooters, who have combined to go 28-for-66 (42.4 percent) in five games. Playing at home and needing a way to score points against a bigger Marquette team, the Titans may try their luck on the home rims from outside.
— 2-point defense: Try and figure this one out: the Titans have blocked nine shots in five games and tout just one rotation player taller than 6-foot-9, though opponents are shooting just a shade better than 43 percent from inside the arc (54th best mark in the country). It could be that their opponents are just poor finishers, but this is still a trend to watch tomorrow.
WHERE THE TITANS STRUGGLE
— Lack of takeaways: Like Arizona State, the Titans have really struggled turning opposing offenses over. Their 15.5 percent turnover rate is one of the worst in the country, and they are averaging just 5.0 steals per game. Marquette had four turnovers against the Sun Devils; a single-digit number should be expected once again.
— Free throws: The Titans have attempted just 93 free throws in five games, the 15th fewest attempts of teams that have played at least five games. Jamil Wilson got into foul trouble on Monday against the Sun Devils, but that shouldn’t be the case this time around. Play straight-up and overpower the Titans with size and speed. No need to reach in.
THREE KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Continue to take good shots: Look, let’s not take anything away from Derrick Wilson or Jake Thomas and how they played against Arizona State. But Thomas was just 5-of-14 from the field, and Wilson’s errant floater at the end of the game wasn’t a terrific decision. The Golden Eagles are going to win or lose in the Wooden Legacy based on shot selection, so staying in rhythm will be important.
2. More freshman cooking: There’s optimism that Todd Mayo will play Thursday, yet even if he does the continued improvement of freshmen Jajuan Johnson and Deonte Burton will be something to watch. Johnson looked calm in his 25 minutes and Burton is as fearless a freshman as Marquette has had since Wesley Matthews. If Marquette gets up big, this will be more important road court-time for the young guns.
3. Just relax: It seems to be an annual tradition for Marquette to start games slow, and playing in a tournament at a team’s home gymnasium could mean the same. Marquette needs to come out, find Chris Otule for a few easy baskets, play sound defense and go from there. The formula for wins is more difficult than that, but against an inferior team in Cal-State Fullerton it really isn’t.