Count on Cracked Sidewalks to once again have a pulse on the sentiments of the #mubb fanbase. For weeks now they have been leading the optimistic charge, beating the drum that Marquette had what it takes to put it all together.
It wasn’t blind faith that led them to pour the kool-aid. Ever the analytic-minded bunch, they have used advanced metrics to back their assertions. Strike that, they were making their assertions based on the advanced metrics they were seeing.
But there comes a point where no amount of data can hide the truth.
This team has been a disappointment of the highest order. Ranked in the top-20 in the preseason and picked to win the Big East, expectations were sky high for this senior-laden squad going into the season. You can argue that it was unfair to expect so much of a team losing it’s three primary ball-handlers, but there was a consensus that Buzz Williams and co. could adapt yet again to get this team to the second weekend of the Tourney.
That goal is long gone. After a sub-par non-con season full of meh wins and “good” losses, the wheels have come off in Big East play. The two Ws have been unconvincing home victories over two of the weakest teams in the league, Seton Hall and DePaul. The three losses have been understandable, but the way they have been lost has been soul-sucking.
Particularly Saturday’s debacle in Hinkle. In an absolute must win against a team that had yet to taste victory in the Big East, MU had a chance to kill it off early. Let’ go through the second half possession by offensive possession.
1: Strong drive to the hole by Derrick finishing nicely off the glass (2 pts); up 8
2: Nice screen and roll between Jake and Gardner, leads to foul (2 pts); up 10
3: Same screen and roll but Gardner’s shot blocked; up 8
4: Gardner sets off ball screen for Jake who gets fouled shooting 2 (2 pts); up 10
5: Derrick pass stolen right away in transition; up 10
6: Jake misses contested 3, Otule rebounds but foot out of bounds; up 10
7: Derrick uses Otule seal and makes uncontested layup (2 pts); up 12
8: Derrick drives and kicks out to open Jamil who misses the 3; up 12
At this point, Marquette got a much needed TV timeout as the players were gassed. If you remember, this is what killed them against Seton Hall as well. The team was rolling smoothly in both games so you can’t fault Buzz for wanting to ride the five on the floor as long as they produced, but in both games, once the clock read 16:45, the production began to die.
The offense became more stagnant than usual. Rotations were a touch late on defense. The tempo dropped from from usually slow to Bo slow. A substitution here would do wonders. (It wasn’t until the 14:07 mark that Buzz made his first substitution, putting in Mayo for Thomas.)
The Golden Eagles were on the verge of blowing this one out. The Hinkle crowd was dead and “We are Marquette” could be faintly heard on the telecast. Butler’s offense was nonexistent, having scored six points in 12 minutes of game time spanning the two halves. It’s not like Marquette’s offense was doing much better (scoring 17 points in that span), but all it needed to do was score a couple buckets to push the lead to 16 or 18 and put the game away.
Here’s what happened instead:
9: Derrick travels trying to attack the rim; up 12
10: Gardner misses 16-footer, Jamil putback wiped out by Otule “foul”; up 12
11: Otule travel; up 9
12: Gardner puts in own miss (2 pts); up 8
13: Gardner misses 15 foot jumper; up 8
14: Derrick misses contested 5-foot floater; up 6
15: Thomas misses contested fallback 3 as time expires; up 6
16: Dawson pass goes through Thomas’ hands; up 6
17: Gardner blocked under the basket; up 6
18: Derrick travels in paint; up 6
19: Jamil misses contested 3; up 6 (under 8 TO)
It’s hard to overstate how pitiful that offensive output was. Marquette had six consecutive possessions to try and increase a six-point lead and failed to do so. Awful doesn’t do it justice.
The rest is history and doesn’t quite need repeating. You know what happens.
What is important is to notice who was doing the shooting/handling. Of those 19 possessions-ending actions, only one was taken by an underclassman, a turnover by John Dawson that was just as much Thomas’ fault as his. What this tells you is that the blame rests solely on the shoulders of the upperclassmen. No rookie errors or learning curve issues to blame.
Hence the opportunity.
Up until Saturday, I had no problems with the way Buzz was distributing minutes. Sure, the results were underwhelming, but save for playing Mayo a little more and giving Derrick a few more breathers, it was giving the team the best chance to win now.
But as the results show (the 155th ranked offense according to Ken Pom), the status quo needs to change. Barring a 13-game winning streak to close out the season, it’s going to take a three (or four) game win-streak in MSG to reach the Tourney. Taking all that in mind, I think it’s time to let the kids loose.
Despite having four senior starters, Marquette clearly lacks an alpha dog. Chris Otule is a fifth option, Jake Thomas is only effective in unguarded spot up situations and Davante Gardner relies on being fed the ball just by the nature of his position.
Jamil Wilson should be that guy, but after three years, there is nothing that indicates he has that gene. That’s just not him. Robin’s robe fits him snuggly, but Batman’s cape just trips him up.
The table above is dated by one game, but shows that Burton is on a different level than any freshman from the past three years. He takes a shot on 28.5 percent of the possessions he’s in, leading the team, and averages 6.4 points in only 13.6 minutes. If he gets it, he looks to shoot first, second and third. This leads to some poor shot selection and sloppy turnovers, pinning him to the bench at time.
And rightly so, up ’til now. While he has been darn impressive, his mistakes on the offensive side and general poor defense negated the output he provided. Limiting his minutes was best for winning now. Jajuan Johnson hasn’t been as successful in his limited time, but has shown he can create off the dribble, a glaring deficiency with Derrick and Jake. He should be seeing more burn.
Let’s get this out of the way. This will not magically turn this season around. They are going to make mistakes. They are going to put up mind-numbing shots. They will play more ole defense than is acceptable. Their time is not now.
But it has to be.
Playing Jake Thomas 39 minutes isn’t an answer for the short or long term. Playing Derrick Wilson 40 minutes isn’t an answer for the short or long term.
The season as we expected is lost, but time remains. Letting the freshmen play through their mistakes will not make the team better in January or February, but it does offer a greater opportunity come March.
I’m not claiming to know more than Buzz or Chew or Autry or Wainwright. They see these guys every day and have had more success in one day than I’ve had in my life.
What I am saying is watching this current team play feels the same as watching them intentionally foul players with eight seconds left, down 10 points. It’s useless to repeat the same actions expecting a different result.
This season has been a disappointment in every sense of the word. Time to make the most of it.