By MATT TREBBY
While Marquette did lose two All-Big East players to the NBA, this season wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Last season, Buzz Williams’ Marquette team was one of the better squads in the country. The Golden Eagles boasted two of the premier players in not only the conference, but the country. Members of the supporting cast did their jobs -- the little things necessary to make that team a national contender.
In college athletics, more than any other corner of the sports world, one year can change a lot.
All the progress Marquette has made this season was thrown aside after UW-Green Bay took down the Golden Eagles on Wednesday night, 49-47. Everything isn’t going the way it should for Marquette so far.
When Todd Mayo was rendered academically ineligible in early November, we wondered how the Golden Eagles would be able to survive on offense. The arrival of Trent Lockett was supposed to help replace the offense supplied by Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, while juniors Vander Blue, Davante Gardner, and Jamil Wilson were also expected to take on larger roles in the offense.
There have been signs of encouragement from certain individuals, but the common theme of the season has been inconsistency on offense. With their 47-point performance against the Phoenix, the Golden Eagles have now scored fewer than 50 points twice this season. The last time Marquette accomplished that was in March of 2008, in their first game in the NCAA Tournament against Michigan State. Before that, it was in the first round of the NIT against Western Michigan in March of 2005.
Last season, the Golden Eagles would have given the ball to either Crowder or Johnson-Odom to take a last-second shot in a clutch situation. Wednesday night, Williams turned to Jake Thomas, a player who was supposed to be a walk-on, to take a shot with less than 10 seconds and his team trailing by a point.
These are offensive struggles the Golden Eagles haven’t seen in a long time. Since 2001, Marquette has made the NCAA Tournament all but two seasons. In those two seasons (2003-’04 and 2004-’05), the Golden Eagles still had some proven, consistent scorers. Travis Diener averaged at least 18 points per game both of those seasons, and Steve Novak averaged 12.5 and 13.5 points, too.
Otherwise, this program has seen some great offensive talents. Players like Dwyane Wade, Robert Jackson, Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews, and Lazar Hayward have donned a Golden Eagles uniform since 2001.
While players like Blue, Gardner, and Wilson could eventually be among those names, it is unfortunately going to take more time than expected. This season’s Marquette team isn’t going to be able to score as prolifically as those of the past. It may be a bit more difficult at times, as evidence of the Golden Eagles’ two road games this season, both of which they have failed to reach 50 points.
If Mayo does come back to the team, the Golden Eagles would get some much needed help on offense from the guard position. But, he won’t be the answer to all of their scoring woes.
Against Green Bay, Marquette’s three starting guards (Blue, Cadougan, and Lockett) combined for 19 points and nine turnovers while making eight of 28 shots overall, zero of 10 three-pointers and only three of eight free throws.
Those stats are not indicative of their play throughout the season, but the fact none of them was able to step up on the road against a team that is 3-7 could be a bit worrying.
Mayo isn’t the type of player fans should expect to make the type of impact Crowder or Johnson-Odom did. He will not save their season single-handedly. While Mayo will definitely help, his return will not turn the Golden Eagles into Big East contenders.
There are positives to note about this season’s team, though, particularly on the defensive end where they have been very good this season. Marquette has only allowed more than 64 points twice this season (against Butler and Florida). While it isn’t Big East season yet, that is an encouraging sign.
The athleticism is evident on defense, and players like Blue, Cadougan, Lockett, and Wilson have been able to hold teams in check this season. On Wednesday night, Green Bay did shoot less than 40 percent from the field, and also only scored 20 points in the second half.
Williams’ team opens Big East play Jan. 1, when the Golden Eagles host the Connecticut Huskies. Not only are they going to need their offensive issues to be sorted out by then, but the Golden Eagles will need to learn how to cope without their head coach, who will be serving a suspension. While the Big East is falling apart off the court, it still includes some quality programs toward the top.
If Marquette has aspirations of getting to another Sweet Sixteen or beyond, they’ll have to get their act together. Right now, this team looks like they’ll find themselves right on the bubble when the bids are announced in March.
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