This one could get ugly. If so, we’ve got some major problems with our team, especially since progress looked more than evident in the past couple of games.
…or, someone could step up, ride the post-OSU progress, and eke us out an important win that’ll do wonders for both Marquette’s confidence and tourney hopes.
Really, it’s that simple. This game is in itself an X-Factor for Marquette’s progress since the Ohio State disaster. The Wisconsin Badgers are 9-0, #9 in the country, and looking like Bo Ryan’s best team since he took over. Marquette is 5-3, and confidence in this team’s abilities is falling just as fast as its top-25 ranking. Sure, MU may have beaten the Badgers the past two matchups, each by 7 and 10 point victories, but this isn’t your typical Wisconsin team. Extremely well-rounded, UW is led by 6’7″ point guard Sam Dekker and 7’0″ center Frank Kaminsky, along with one of the best crop of three-point shooters in the country. I can’t emphasize the last statement enough – their incredible shooting not only blows Marquette’s out of the water, but provides a balance in their frontcourt that any Marquette big would kill for. For emphasis, let’s look at some numbers:
1. Six of Wisconsin’s top eight scorers shoot over 40% from three.
2. The two that don’t are Nigel Hayes, who has yet to attempt a three-pointer this year, and Sam Dekker, who not only shoots a respectable 33% (11-33), but is their second-leading scorer and play-maker in late situations, making his currently “average” percentage less than relevant.
3. Of the six who shoot over 40%, all have attempted 10 or more threes this year, and four have made more than ten. So, not only do they shoot efficiently, they shoot a lot. The outlier of the crop is sharp-shooting Ben Brust, who’s an astounding 22-53 from three to start the season.
Marquette doesn’t have one player who shoots over 40% beyond the arc. In fact, the team as a whole combines for a barf-inducing 27%. And without Jake Thomas, the only player over 33%, the team is put at a 23% clip. That’s a problem.
On a more positive side, at least it hasn’t been a continuous brick show. Over a three-game stretch against Arizona State, Cal-State Fullerton and George Washington, Marquette shot 23-54 from three, a more-than-satisfying 43%. But shooting well against unintimidating defenses isn’t the best measure for progress when you consistently fail to do so against better defenses, such as Ohio State (1-18) and San Diego State (1-11). Though progress against elite teams has been evident for the team as a whole, the next step for Marquette is to come out with a win – and that’s not going to happen unless they prove themselves as a credible threat from beyond the arc.
I’d say this leads well into our X-Factors for the game today:
1. Three Point Shooting
- See above. We’re not expecting anything over 50%, or even 40%, but Marquette’s going to have to make more than one to keep themselves in this game.
2. Jamil Steps Up
- I think we could all agree that the three biggest games of the year so far have been Ohio State, Arizona State and San Diego State. And say, who was the lead scorer in those three crucial matchups? Mayo with 11, Gardner with 18, and Deonte with 15, in that order – none of which I have a problem leading the team in scoring, but none of the three who are the most talented all-around player on our team. Jamil Wilson, the 6-7, uber-athletic forward expected to be a go-to guy on offense, has downright disappointed so far his season in every aspect of his game this season, especially when needed most. Besides a 24-point outburst against CSF, Wilson has played mediocre against low-to-mid caliber teams (10, 11, 9, and 5 against Southern, Grambling, NH and GW) and even worse against elite competition (3 on 1-9 shooting against OSU, 9 on 4-10 against SDSU). Some may point to 13 points against ASU, but he shot 5-15 from the field and fouled out in the second half. The lack of efficiency, the unnecessary fouls and all-around below-average output may be due to playing out of position, as Buzz has him bringing the ball up when Derrick’s on the bench, or a temporary discomfort in this new “star” role. But, as the phrase goes, “champions adjust,” and Jamil has hardly done so at this point. Now, I’m not saying we should give up on him at all, but success in Marquette’s basketball program under Buzz Williams has been best with a go-to scorer to rely on late in games, which Marquette has lacked so far this season. If Jamil steps up as the season goes on, like Vander Blue did last year, this could be a team that once again surprises in the tourney. But, if he doesn’t, we’re going to have major issues down the stretch in late games. Today against Wisconsin would be a perfect time for Jamil to both prove himself differently by breaking out of his funk and displaying the leadership this team has so desperately needed from him.
3. Davante Makes His Presence Known Down Low
- This one goes hand-in-hand with number 1. Ox had an off-game against San Diego State, playing through most of the game sick before being taken out when he eventually threw up on the court. That’s not expected to happen again, as he’s better now, but it’ll be crucial for him nonetheless to pound the ball down low to help spread the floor on offense. And if neither of the above x-factors happen, he’s going to be needed to carry the full offensive load Syracuse-game-like. It’s comforting to know that Marquette hasn’t lost back-to-back games in two seasons, and Davante’s best performances have come after some of his worst, so the odds of a bounce-back game for both the Golden Eagles and the big fella are definitely in our favor.
Prediction: Wisconsin 58, Marquette 53. Could be a closer game than many think, for reasons listed in the paragraph above. We picked Marquette to win earlier in the season, but UW looks way more polished than the MU at this moment. However, if history is right, you should nonetheless never count out Buzz Williams and the Golden Eagles, and we surely won’t until the clock hits zero.
Catch the game today at 1:15 CT on the Big Ten Network.
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