I couldn’t begin to tell you what I heard after the Ohio State loss.
Gathering a common theme from the post-game profanities (whether heard or read), all hope of getting in the tourney was apparently lost. “Where is the Buzz we saw last year? What the hell was he doing?” All of Twitter engaged in what will be known from now on as, “The Collective Roast of Jake Thomas and Derrick Wilson.” We participated. Fans, including ourselves, were nearly pulling their hair out for Jajuan Johnson or Deonte Burton, who received a combined eight minutes against Ohio State despite the backcourt’s ongoing struggles.
I’m not here to say I wasn’t panicking; that I was the only one who had some sort of crystal ball that I’m about to shove in your faces. Because I, too, was quite worried about the future of this team. And after witnessing our former Elite Eight squad shoot 18.9% from the field (including a miserable 1-18 from three) to finish a game with 35 points, how could you not be? Escaping New Hampshire 58-53 five days later didn’t help, as the team still shot 32% from the field and endured a similar 3-22 performance from three, despite the win. Besides against Grambling (not a real game), Derrick Wilson had a combined four points in 93 minutes played, and a meager turnover-assist ratio of 5-6. Duane Wilson was (and is still) injured, giving us a “pick your poison” crop of point guards in Wilson and freshman John Dawson. Also besides Grambling, Jake Thomas was a mere 2-16 from three, looking like the same guy we saw last season that struggled to succeed in his role. These backcourt woes allowed Ohio State to collapse on our hailed frontcourt of Gardner, Taylor Jr. and Otule, holding the three big men to a combined 14 points in “the game that shall never be spoken of again.”
What’s worse is that there’s so much more we could’ve piled on in the above paragraph. So many perceived “problems” that no one deemed fixable. Had we forgotten that Marquette endured a similar start to the season last year, from both a star and team standpoint? Did anyone remember that years’ much worse, 33-point body slam loss against Florida? I mean, we lost to Ohio State by 17, but the defense only gave up 52 to this years’ top-10 matchup, instead of 82 in the previous. Also, had the 49-47 loss against Green Bay already slipped past our minds, in which we actually lost to a mid-major instead of, only this time, barely winning? Throw in the last years’ inability to quickly find a consistent star and the 72-71 Butler loss, and we may be just realizing that we’re going through some serious déjà vu. Guys, we’ve been here before. Patience is key for a team that loses stars, as it takes time for a player to become “the guy,” or the reliable scorer that everyone knows is getting the rock in late-game situations. Last year, we didn’t have “the guy” right from the gun. Vander Blue became “the guy,” and if you didn’t get the italicized grammatical reference, “became” implies development. And truthfully, development is what this team is going to need to succeed – and we definitely saw some significant progress in that department Monday night against Arizona State.
First, let’s talk about the positives.
- Jake Thomas had 16 points and went 5-12 from three. It was his career-high in points and three-pointers made, and only the second time in his Marquette career he had attempted over 5 threes in a game. The other instance? 0-6 against Ohio State. He may have started this game 0-4, but Thomas going 5-8 beyond the arc in the second half contributed enormously to Marquette’s comeback. Let’s just say this performance came at a much needed time.
- Derrick Wilson also had a career-high in points, logging 14 points on efficient 5-9 shooting – more than doubling his previous career-high of 6. He also had 7 assists and 0 turnovers, making him the first Marquette player to have a 14+ point, 7+ assist and 0 turnover game since Travis Diener in 2005 (his was 24-7-0 – heard he was pretty good, too). Like Thomas, this game for Wilson couldn’t have come at a better time, and gives hope of what we could possibly see out of Derrick in future games.
- How about the freshmen in this one? Jajuan Johnson played a career-best 25 minutes, sparking the offense with 9 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds and a steal on 4-8 shooting (1-3 from three). Deonte Burton may have only played 8 minutes, but he still accumulated 2 points on 1-2 shooting in that short period of time. Without Todd Mayo playing, the freshmen provided an offensive cushion that was nonexistent against New Hampshire, Ohio State or even Southern, as JJJ used his athleticism to repeatedly convert tough plays. Really, all backcourt play was phenomenal filling in for Mayo. Expect JJJ (and Deonte at times) to receive plenty minutes going forward.
- Marquette also seemed to have figured out their most effective offense in deploying a small-ball lineup. After a frontcourt-based offense proved unable to consistently produce points, Marquette went with a three-guard offense of Derrick Wilson, Thomas and JJJ from the 17:10 mark in the 2nd half until 27 seconds left in the game, outscoring the Sun Devils 37-30 in that time to bring them to a heartbreaking (but closer than expected) 78-77 loss, despite trailing by as much as 15 in the first half. To read more about the positive effects of this three-guard offense, click here, as Paint Touches did a great article on it. If you decided not to click, know that the best argument for this offense (as quoted from the article) reads:
Taking the last three games into account, Marquette has used the Wilson-three-guard offense for 47:58, outscored its opponents 76-69 (+7) and shot 38.4 percent from the field (25-of-65). In all other instances, 72:02 game time, the Golden Eagles have been outscored 94-115 and shot 27.5 percent from the field (30-of-109).
What’s even more phenomenal about this is that this three-guard offense has been used with lead-scorer Todd Mayo on the bench. However, one should know that a large chunk of the second offense’s time takes into account the 40-minute-long brick show against Ohio State, and without it, I’m sure the numbers would be a lot more similar. But nonetheless, a game is a game, and you can’t just toss out what happened against OSU out the window. And after seeing the noticeable differences between the ASU and OSU games, I’m convinced this three-guard offense would’ve faired much better against Ohio State than the frontcourt-based one did. Even if you hadn’t taken a look at the numbers, the differences have been clear – so expect to see the first used much more often in future matchups.
There were a few rough spots as well (such as execution on final plays), but the positives vastly outweigh the negatives, even in a loss. Hope, like the offense, has started to restore, and that’s just what we were longing to see when tuning into the game in the first place. Though the development process can be rough for fans, having knowledge of both this team’s progress and potential is incomparable to previous feelings of despair and frustration, and seeing a glimpse of the first definitely has us looking towards March with high aspirations.
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By the way, Happy Thanksgiving, Marquette fans. Tune into Marquette take on Cal State-Fullerton at 3:30 pm CT (ESPN2) to add the icing on the cake (dressing to the turkey..??) to this years’ holiday. It’s the first matchup of the Wooden Legacy Tournament, in which Marquette is a title contender along with Creighton, San Diego State, and Arizona State (!!!). Assuming Marquette beats Fullerton (highly likely), game 2 is on Nov. 29th (2:30 pm CT, ESPN/ESPN2) against either Miami or George Washington. Another likely win would bring them to the championship on December 1st (8:30 pm CT, ESPN2) against one of the three aforementioned teams, assuming Charleston doesn’t pull of a miracle run. Should be a great tournament with plenty of credible RPI matchups. Watch for which lineups Buzz decides to run, the freshmen’s improvement, Todd/Duane injury updates, and how the team builds off the ASU win. A tourney championship is definitely a realistic possibility and would do wonders in building this team’s confidence, so be sure to catch the games over the holiday break.
Did we mention we’re 5-0 in picks this year? I mean, not to brag or anything…
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