By MATT TREBBY
There are two games left that could potentially hurt Marquette’s résumé if they were to lose. Those two are the Golden Eagles’ next two, starting with a game away to South Florida on Wednesday night. Then, they will host DePaul on Saturday afternoon.
Currently, the Bulls are 10-11 and 1-8 in the Big East. Their only conference win came at home to Georgetown in an impressive effort.
Still, if Marquette finds a way to lose tonight they will surely be disappointed. South Florida is 89th in ESPN.com’s Daily RPI, which could be seen as a bit generous.
South Florida was 15 of 55 from the field, good for just 27.3 percent. Freshman guard Javontae Hawkins had a career-high 14 points on 6 of 9 shooting. That means the other eight Bulls that played combined for just nine field goals. They were 12 of 13 from the free throw line, though, but that is really the only positive to be taken from their stat sheet.
Against South Florida, the Golden Eagles were carried by junior Vander Blue’s career night. The starting guard had 30 points on 13 of 20 shooting, adding six rebounds. Nine of Blue’s 13 field goals were either a dunk or lay-up. He was able to take advantage of a shaky Bulls defense, but also benefitted from his big men in the post.
As Blue noted after the game, his high number of shots around the basket are evidence that center Chris Otule and forward Davante Gardner were sealing their defenders off and creating space for him. At times, it wasn’t very obvious who was guarding Blue for South Florida, if anyone at all.
Outside of their leading scorer, Marquette was still pretty good from the field on offense. The rest of the team combined to shoot 14 of 29 from the field against the Bulls. Trent Lockett was the only other player in double-figures, though, with 10 points along with eight rebounds.
Key to the game for Marquette
1. Frustrate the Bulls defensively
South Florida’s top-four scorers – Victor Rudd, Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, Jawanza Poland, and Anthony Collins – scored a combined 24 points, shooting a poor 6 of 30 from the field. While it’s unlikely for all four of them to struggle in a similar manner on offense, Marquette will try to shut as many of them down again as possible.
None of the four average over 11 points, and in their nine Big East games South Florida scores 54.3 points as a team per contest. It’s likely to be a low-scoring game on Wednesday night, and Marquette will have to display their superior athletic ability in defending the Bulls to get a victory.
2. Get the best from their point guard
In their first meeting against South Florida, point guard Junior Cadougan was able to dish out six assists. Although he only scored two points, the senior did a nice job of keeping the Golden Eagles’ offense under control.
Against Louisville, though, Cadougan was not at his best by any means. He only played 19 minutes and committed four turnovers and also saw Derrick Wilson play 21. To win on the road, Marquette is going to have to keep its offense under control. If Cadougan has four or more turnovers again, South Florida will have done its job on defense.
3. Get familiar shots on offense
Against Louisville, it is well documented how the Golden Eagles were not able to get the ball into the paint and get many decent looks at the basket. On the road especially, that is not a recipe for success.
While South Florida is not going to be as defensively intense as the Cardinals, Marquette could potentially be frustrated. Tampa has never been an easy place for the Golden Eagles. Even though they have only lost there once in the Big East, a win is never easy to come by down there.
Two years ago, Marquette found itself behind in the first half and needed a big second half comeback to get the victory. While this year’s team may not be prone to dominating opponents and winning in a convincing manner, it will need to avoid falling behind early on. The Golden Eagles will need to be in control on the offensive end and get high-percentage looks at the basket.
Still, South Florida does have impressive length and size which can cause issues for their opponents. Still, if Marquette can play a similar game to its win against South Florida last week, they should be able to get plenty of good looks at the baskets which will leads to points and a necessary win on the road.
By MATT TREBBY
After Todd Mayo didn’t play against Providence, the majority of people that follow Marquette figured he must have done something wrong.
Maybe the sophomore showed up late for a meeting, or violated team rules. Most assumed that there is no reason he shouldn’t be playing based on his talent.
Few have actually considered Mayo is not playing for the benefit of the team. The possibility that Marquette is simply better without the guard on the court has not really been given the light of day.
Head coach Buzz Williams has given no indication that Mayo has done anything wrong. After the game against Providence, Williams made it sound like Mayo’s zero minutes were simply because he didn’t want to. His wrist was wrapped up on the bench, but Williams said he was healthy and he just chose not to put Mayo in the game.
Still, come on, there has to be something going on there, right?
The only problem Mayo is encountering is the quality play of the two starting shooting guards, Vander Blue and Trent Lockett.
Both the junior and senior guards are hitting their strides for the Golden Eagles on both ends of the court. Blue and Lockett are becoming difficult to take off the court for Williams.
Blue is in the midst of his best period of play as a Marquette player, especially on the offensive end. He is averaging 17.1 points per game through eight Big East games, and over his past four games is averaging 19.8.
In the past four games, Blue has been off the court for a combined 16 minutes, and in the past three he’s missed just 10. He has been Williams’ go-to-scorer on the perimeter and needs to be on the court. He is scoring at a rate that Mayo one day could achieve, but that day doesn’t appear to be anytime soon. If Blue can physically be on the court, he should and will be.
After suffering some growing pains at the start of the season, Lockett is looking more and more like the player Marquette fans expected to get from Arizona State. He is averaging 13 points in his past three games, shooting 11 of 22 from the field and is 15 of 19 from the free throw line – 78.9 percent. Over those three games, Lockett is averaging 5.7 rebounds and in Big East play grabs a similar 5.8 rebounds per game.
In the Golden Eagles’ past three games, Lockett has not been on the court for a combined 19 minutes – 6.1 per game. He has been doing all the dirty work for Williams, rebounding and defending at a very good level.
Over the past three games, Blue and Lockett have been off the court for a combined 35 minutes. In those three games, Mayo has played just 17. So who has been playing in their places instead of the sophomore?
Against South Florida, when Mayo played just six minutes, Marquette played with just two guards for a span of 4 minutes, 32 seconds in the first half. Steve Taylor Jr. replaced Trent Lockett with 12:32 remaining, and played alongside both Jamil Wilson and Davante Gardner during that period.
Prior to that game, Williams had a similar line-up on the court for just over two minutes when Taylor Jr. replaced Lockett with 13:16 left in the first half. He stayed in until there were 11 minutes remaining. Those were his only two minutes of the game. Blue and Lockett were off the court for a combined four minutes against the Friars. Jake Thomas got the other two minutes to make up for their absence.
Other than those instances, there haven’t been any other noteworthy spans where Marquette hasn’t had two of Blue, Lockett, or Mayo on the court.
Is Todd Mayo a bad player? No, he is not. Purely a scorer, Mayo displays confidence on the offensive end of the court that few others on the team do. Last season, he looked a more confident scorer than Blue. But, a lot can change in a year.
The main worry for the Golden Eagles coming into this season came on the offensive end. They needed a reliable scorer. A lot of people thought Mayo would have a big role on this team, but hasn’t lived up to those expectations quite yet.
It hasn’t been easy for the sophomore, though. After missing the first 10 games of the season, he had little time to prepare for the Big East. As Mayo looked like he was starting to turn a corner against Seton Hall, Lockett and Blue have turned it on, too. Since his 12-point game against the Pirates, he played 26 minutes in an overtime loss at Cincinnati before finding himself reduced to playing the fewest minutes in any three-game-span since he’s been at Marquette.
Mayo’s decrease in minutes appears to have less to do with his play and more to do with how Blue and Lockett have turned their games on recently. Whether this will continue or not remains to be seen. His 11 minutes against Louisville could be seen as a sign of more minutes to come or his team being in need of a spark on offense.
After all Mayo has had to go through this year just to become available to play, this situation will continue to be monitored. As much as he had to offer the team he may just have to wait until the two players in front of him stop playing so well.
By MATT TREBBY
Sometimes a blow-out loss can be seen as a wake- up call for teams. A defeat like Marquette suffered to Louisville would bring most teams back down to earth.
While they were 6-1 in the Big East, Marquette wasn’t lighting the world on fire in how they went about winning games. Their last three victories were against Seton Hall, Providence, and South Florida. Those wins were by an average of 10 points, and were not dominating performances.
Even Buzz Williams has said his team is not capable of winning a game by blowing an opponent out. They are not going to dominate opposition like Louisville dominated the Golden Eagles on Sunday afternoon. Williams did admit, though, they could be blown out.
If Williams’ team has taken on his mindset, then they should understand Louisville is a better team. If there are only two options – a close game or a blowout loss – then this loss is no surprise.
The loss to Louisville was not devastating for Marquette. Players have echoed the need to focus on every possession and play a complete 40 minutes. The Cardinals were down 9-1 early in the first half, but showed their superiority after that.
This was no wake up call. It was simply a 19-point loss. The Golden Eagles’ outlook on the rest of their season shouldn’t change at all because of the margin of defeat. They still have little room for error against teams like Louisville and have to play extremely well to beat the country’s best teams. Their last chance for a win like that will be against Syracuse on February 25th.
Fans shouldn’t panic, and Williams definitely will not because of this loss. While it is a convincing defeat, it is at the hands of one of college basketball’s best. Marquette will look to rebound at South Florida on Wednesday night, and I can almost guarantee it will be a close game.
If the Golden Eagles are ever going to win a game convincingly and dominate from start to finish, the game against the Bulls might be the one. It would be nice to get the taste of victory back in their systems again after that one.
For now, though, Williams’ team is still who we thought they were and who he thinks they are, too. Nothing will ever be easy for Marquette, and at times it is going to be frustrating. Everyone who follows this team should know that by now, and one game shouldn’t that.
By MATT TREBBY
Ahead of their game against Marquette on Sunday, Louisville center Gorgui Dieng said he believes the Golden Eagles are the best team in the Big East.
“That’s just because Gorgui likes me,” Marquette head coach Buzz Williams said of his comments.
No one has heard anyone say anything like that yet this season, mainly because Syracuse has been in the top-10 nationally the whole season and actually beat the Cardinals in Louisville.
Williams says he has known Dieng for a while and praised his development as a player over his time at Louisville.
“I’ve known Gorgui for a long time,” Williams said. “Know all the people around Gorgui. Think he’s a great kid. He’s arguably the top center in the country in a lot of ways on both ends of the floor.”
The junior’s statistics are unique to say the least. In the 6 foot 11 center’s last five games, he’s averaging 36.6 minutes per game and has played 39 minutes in three of those five games. On the season he is averaging 30.1 minutes per game, but that number has increased to 34.6 as he has gotten healthy.
This season, Dieng averages 9.4 points and 10.0 rebounds per game, along with an impressive 2.4 blocks and 2.2 assists. He only takes 6.9 shots per game, making him one of the more efficient players in the Big East. According to Williams, he’s at the top of that list.
“Very rare do you find a player that plays 35 minutes as a starter that averages more rebounds than points. His efficiency, he’s the most efficient player among all players in the Big East in the things that I study.”
Last season, Chris Otule was injured and was unable to play against Dieng and Louisville. Like Williams, Otule knows Dieng and enjoys playing against him.
“I guess I missed him. I like playing against him,” Otule said. “I know him personally, too, so he’s a fun guy to play against.”
Otule said he expects his head coach to execute his offense-defense substitutions, and maybe even do them a bit more against Dieng. Because the Senegalese center has become a force on both ends of the court, Williams will want to match Otule and forward Davante Gardner against him on their respective stronger end of the court – Otule on defense and Gardner on offense.
By MATT TREBBY
This season Trent Lockett has done everything well except for what people expected him to do at Marquette: score.
Because of that he’s starting to remind head coach Buzz Williams of a former Golden Eagle that now plies his trade in the NBA.
“He’s got a lot of Jimmy Butler in him in that he’s really hard for us to take off the floor,” Williams said. “What he does for us defensively, the physicality that he plays with, he’s been a man on the glass for us.
“We’ve expected a lot of him, and if you look at his numbers you wouldn’t necessarily say we’ve gotten a lot out of him.”
Especially on offense, Lockett’s statistics are quite underwhelming. After shooting 49.8 percent as a junior and 51.6 as a sophomore at Arizona State, Lockett is 38.1 percent from the field this season. He’s also 28.6 percent form beyond the arc.
Still, Lockett has shown signs of improvement in the past two games, scoring 10 and 13 points against Providence and South Florida.
It’s been through rebounding and defense that the senior has made an impact. In Big East play, Lockett is 16th in the conference in rebounding, averaging 6.1 through seven games. He’s also tied with teammate Davante Gardner for 15th in the conference with 2.1 offensive rebounds per game.
On the defensive end of the court, Lockett has made a few plays that Williams considers “winning plays.” He presents good size for a college guard at 6 foot 5 and 210 lbs. and has put that to use defensively.
Turnovers were a problem that plagued Lockett this season, as well. Even while committing four against South Florida, he has turned the ball over just nine times in Golden Eagles’ last five games.
As Lockett has become more comfortable in the Marquette line-up, fellow guard Vander Blue has started to pick his game up. The junior guard has been excelling offensively as Lockett has been putting a lot of the defensive responsibility on his shoulders.
In Big East play, Blue is averaging 17.1 points – 7th in the conference – and also 19.0 points in the team’s last five games. He only averaged 12.3 points in the non-conference season, but as Lockett’s game has improved so has Blue’s.
“I think we play really well off each other,” Lockett said. “Obviously (Blue) is a great player, and as the season has progressed we’ve been able to read each other even better and play alongside each other and it’s been a great experience.”
Sophomore guard Todd Mayo has only played six minutes in Marquette’s past two games, and many have wondered why he’s seen the decrease in minutes. The likely answer is that Lockett is playing much better as the season has progressed. Also, Blue is much better when he is the primary scoring threat on the perimeter and has someone to help him out defensively. Lockett doesn’t spend the majority of his time on offense in the same spots Blue occupies, unlike Mayo.
Fans may still not be sold by Lockett, but his coach and teammates certainly are. The senior guard has been cast a role he has never had to play before, and according to Williams has done quite well.
By MATT TREBBY
At 15-4 Marquette has built themselves a pretty respectable NCAA Tournament résumé so far this season. ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi has them as a six-seed in his most recent Bracketology, which could be seen as a bit low for a team that is 6-1 in the Big East.
While the six-seed might be difficult to achieve come Selection Sunday, the Golden Eagles have put themselves in a position where at least they won’t likely be “on the bubble.”
Here are their credentials as of 11:00 AM on January 31st (according to ESPN.com’s Daily RPI):
Strength of Schedule: 26
Key wins: No. 26 Connecticut, No. 33 Georgetown, No. 48 Wisconsin, at No. 50 Pittsburgh
Bad losses: at No. 167 UW-Green Bay
Record vs. top-25: 0-3
Record vs. 25-50: 4-0
Lunardi’s selection of a six-seed looks pretty accurate at this point, with room for improvement. While their RPI alone may merit a higher seed, the Golden Eagles lost to the three highest-rated teams they’ve played and have only one noteworthy road/neutral site victory.
If Marquette could have pulled out a victory against No. 11 Butler or No. 23 Cincinnati, their case would have been helped in a big way. I would guess that would push them up to a five-seed and maybe even pushing for a four.
The road ahead
Because they’re in the Big East, Marquette doesn’t have many more opportunities to gain anymore bad losses. They still have to travel to No. 79 South Florida and No. 85 Seton Hall and also host No. 165 DePaul. Only the latter of the three would likely be looked down upon by the selection committee.
With six wins in their first seven games, the Golden Eagles have a lot to live up to for the rest of conference play. They have five games remaining against top-50 RPI schools and two against schools within nine spots of being among those teams.
The Golden Eagles still have to play at No. 12 Louisville, at No. 33 Georgetown, No. 50 Pittsburgh, No. 9 Syracuse, No. 40 Notre Dame – along with road games against three just outside of that, at No. 54 Villanova, at No. 56 Rutgers, and at No. 53 St. John’s.
In order for Marquette to get a five-seed in the NCAA Tournament, they will likely need to win at least two of those five games. If they are able to do so, their record against top-50 RPI schools would then be 6-6. If they are below .500 against teams in the top-50, I would have a hard time believing they would receive anything better than a six-seed.
In order to achieve a five-seed, a win at Louisville or home vs. Syracuse would be a big benefit. Wins at least seven or eight of their final 11 games would also be a great help. The one glaring need on their résumé is a win against a team in the top-25 of the RPI, and they’ll have an opportunity to get that win against two of the nation’s best teams.
There will not be any worries on Selection Sunday when it comes to being one of the 68 teams for Marquette. Buzz Williams’ team has done enough to prove they are worthy of a birth in the NCAA Tournament.
To be 100 percent sure of that, the Golden Eagles likely need to win at least five of their last 11 games and need to avoid defeat against DePaul at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Of their final 11 Big East games, eight of them will be against top-56 teams according to the RPI.
If Marquette gets at least 12 wins in the Big East, which would be six of their final 11, I see a six-seed as the bare minimum and a five-seed likely. A four would be dependent on who the Golden Eagles are able to defeat. If they get at least two victories against top-50 RPI teams and one on the road, they would be looking pretty good to get at least a five-seed.
Marquette will have opportunities to build their résumé, and their game against Louisville on Sunday afternoon would be a great place to start. A win against the Cardinals would make a five-seed in the NCAA Tournament all the more realistic. If they keep winning then who knows how high the Golden Eagles could be seeded in the “Big Dance.”