We're glad you chose to spend your Valentine's Day with us! We prepared for this moment by exchanging emails with Marquette blogger Dan from Stuck in 1977, who has been casting his critical eye on the Golden Eagles all season. Here's what we wanted to know from him and the information he was able to give us in response.
BOTP: Why is Marquette so bad from behind the arc right now? Is it a function of the players or of the offense?
Dan D.: I often scratch my head at this issue. We have several guys on the team that can hit the 3-ball in Jake Thomas, Todd Mayo, and Jamil Wilson. John Dawson and JuJuan Johnson have hit from long range, but their sample size is on the small end. I think the issue is two-fold. At times the issue is just a lack of confidence or momentum. If a couple guys miss from the perimeter early on, it gets contagious and causes other guys to miss. The other (and bigger) issue is shot selection. There have been a lot of instances where we'll settle for jump shots early on in the shot clock, and you just know before whoever takes the shot it's brick city. At the Butler game last week, Deonte Burton took a wide-open three and I screamed "NO!" from my seat before it even left his hands. It ended up being an airball, and the most frustrating part was he had a wide open path to the rim. What really makes this a killer is for Jake Thomas, because without the long ball he has nothing. He's a far cry from being Steve Novak, and he can't create his own shot nor drive to the hoop.
To answer the second part of your question, I think it's more the players than the offense. Buzz's philosophy does stress "paint touches" as most people know, but he wants the team to take what the defense is giving them, and doesn't try to force more of a certain type of shot, he just cares about creating scoring opportunities in general. Pretty simple logic: If you're covered, pass it to the open man. If you're open, rise and fire.
BOTP: What needs to change for Marquette to make a run at the tourney? Do they have the pieces to make it happen?
Dan D.: Realistically, I think we're headed to the Not Invited Tournament as this point. Would we make the dance if we ran the table and got a win in the BET? Sure. But I don't see us winning more than 5 of the next 7. We're not built to beat a team like Creighton because they have too many good jump shooters, and historically we've played poorly at Villanova, especially at the arena on campus. 11-7 would look good as a conference record, but what would ultimately keep us on the outside and looking in is the fact that we played so poorly in the non-conference part of our schedule. Do we have the pieces? Yes. Can we put all of the pieces together at the right time? Unlikely.
BOTP: I discussed a little bit about how the Big East is a step up for X in terms of having fewer potential bad losses and more potential good wins on the schedule. Is Marquette experiencing something of the opposite effect with some of the bigger names moving out? How much has that hurt them and other middle-of-the-pack Big East teams?
Dan D.: I think most would agree the Big East has been diluted with the loss of Syracuse, UConn, Pitt, Notre Dame, and Louisville. Louisville has been a long-time rival of ours, and us much as I dislike them, I miss playing them. Notre Dame has been a long-time rival, but living in Chicago there's so much noise and press about the Irish that I don't really miss playing them (at least not yet). Even though we were newbies in the Big East compared to some of the others, the East Coast Bias played in our favor because we were included in the hype as being in the best conference in the country.
With that being said, given the conference shakeout from college football, I'm pretty happy with how things turned out. I cringed with every newcomer to the old Big East, and when the Catholic 7 split off I knew this was the best possible outcome. Having a Jesuit bias, I was happy to get Xavier and Creighton in, and Butler certainly has made their mark in late March over the past 5 years. With Brad Stevens gone, I do worry that Butler will drop off significantly in the next couple years, but we'll see. I think between MU, Xavier, Villanova, Georgetown, Creighton (and Providence?) we can have a solid conference going forward.
BOTP: What does Marquette do on defense that makes them so stout?
Dan D.: I think good defense always starts with toughness and hustle. Finesse and good defense are like oil and water. Year in and year out, Buzz's teams always play tough, but this year especially because they have the size to play great defense in the paint. Chris Otule (who has a lifetime achievement award while being in his 6th year with the team, btw) is a great shot blocker and has pretty good discipline. Derrick Wilson, Todd Mayo, and Otule play pretty good on-the-ball defense. Overall, we're not athletic enough to put a hat on a hat, so we have to be productive with double-teams. A couple of the guys have had trouble with defense off the ball, namely the freshman, which is understandable. While Burton has made his share of blunders, he's also played beyond his years at times, and is one of many reasons I'm excited about seeing how good he'll be in two years.
Where we get burned is when we give the guy with the ball an outlet pass to the perimeter or a back-door cut in the paint. The latest stats from Ken Pomeroy show our opponents are shooting 35% from beyond the arc, good for 188th in the country.
BOTP: Why has Marquette had so much trouble scoring the basketball during conference play?
Dan D.: There is a laundry list of factors, so here it goes. I feel like this is a broken record, but the lack of good point guard play is a big factor. I think the MU faithful were pretty hard on Junior Cadougan at times, and now they miss him dearly. Cadougan was great at driving in the lane and knowing whether to take it to the rack or kick it to the open guy. Sure he had a couple games with 4+ turnovers, but overall he was a good point guard.
Another factor is tempo. Our teams the last couple years have been able to score in transition because of strong guard play. Last year Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue were great at scoring in transition and speeding up the overall tempo. This year, the bigs are the dog and the guards are the tail. The only player who is great in transition is Todd Mayo. His offense has certainly carried the team at times.
Speaking of Vander, losing him to the draft was a serious loss. I'm no expert on the NBA draft, but he had no business coming out a year early, and the fact that he went undrafted proves just that. Vander could take over a game in the second half when we needed him to. Just in March alone, he made last-second shots against St. John's on the road to win the Big East regular season title, and against Davidson to survive the first round. In the second round against Butler, he put on a clinic in the second half.
Another issue has been turnovers. A couple guys have been very turnover-prone. Jamil Wilson has been the biggest offender with poor passes into traffic, but Derrick Wilson and Davante Gardner have been culprits as well. I think Derrick is feeling the pressure of underperforming, which has caused him to try to make something out of nothing at times, which ends up in a turnover. Derrick is also a poor jump shooter and every guys that defends him knows it. Gardner has been just as good as ever, but he'll try to go up for a shot and have it blocked or stolen when he knows he should've kicked it back out.
Lastly, the three-point shooting I talked about earlier has certainly hurt this team's ability to score. Three pointers are great not only from a points aspect, but from a mental aspect too. A key shot from long range can fire up the home crowd or silence the crowd on the road. While we are a good rebounding team in general due to our size, enough missed 3-pointers will start to fall for the defense which will kill any momentum we have. I still can't figure out why such a mediocre shooting team continues to settle for jump shots with 25 seconds left in the shot clock.
BOTP: What does Marquette have to do to win this game? What is something that will doom them if they don't avoid it?
Dan D.: To win on Saturday, a few things need to happen. One, I think we need to control Matt Stainbrook, which should be doable since last time we held him to 7 points at the Cintas Center. Second, we need to do a better job of guarding the perimeter, as I remember getting torched by the X men from long range last time. Third, we need a 15+ point performance from either Todd Mayo, Jamil Wilson, or Davante Gardner. We're not going to hang 80 points on Xavier, so any offensive firepower we do get will come from one or two guys. Fourth, hang tough down the stretch. We got back into the game in the second half last time and then fell apart in the last 5 minutes. We have been playing better down the stretch as of late, hopefully that continues to hold.
What will doom us is largely an echo of what I've already mentioned. Turnovers on offense and settling for bad jump shots will doom us for sure. If we can get a few 3-pointers out of Thomas or Mayo, great. But if we're missing them early, get the ball inside for shots off the glass or trips to the charity stripe.
BOTP: Finally, we're trying to get our community more involved by opening up the ol' Twitter feed for suggestions for our Q&As. As you're about to see, it's still something of a work in progress. Twitter follower "Hey, it's Matt!" asks "Why does Buzz Williams look like a fetus?" I sincerely apologize that this was the best question we got, but do with it what you will.
Dan D.: Wow, definitely didn't see this one coming. I'll leave that one up to the imagination of the readers.
Thanks, Dan! Of course, that leaves the obvious question of what the explanation behind Buzz Williams's appearance could be that it merits such an obvious cover-up. We may never know. Our actual preview will run this evening, and we'll have game coverage tomorrow.