Fixing Marquette’s Seemingly Unfixable Problems

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If you follow the #mubb hashtag on Twitter, or maybe just happened to witness the 75-68 heart-breaking, self-imploding, brain-exploding loss to New Mexico, it’s more than likely you’ve got an idea of what us fans are going through at this moment. First off, it’s a fact that about 87% of Marquette fans didn’t sleep last night. And the 13% who did had recurring nightmares of Cullen Neal swishing treys left and right, on the way to a perfect infinity-for-infinity night to oust the Golden Eagles 8973465789234509 to -13. Others who laid awake hallucinated about herds of Lobos raiding their households and roping them up to the couch so they could all rewatch the game for the rest of eternity. Really, we’re starting to have some serious problems. However, the good part is that most of us Marquette fans have been updating our issues second-by-second on Twitter, so that we can at least relate to each other’s problems with all things having to do with New Mexico. Some of these tweets have been, in our opinion, very over-the-top, and way more zombie-apocalypse-themed than we’d like them to be. Here are a few samples (reworded a tad differently):

Look at Jamil. Just look at the way he runs. The way he carries himself screams FEAR. Kick him off the team and find a better option! #FREEJJJ!!!!

What happened to Buzz? Why is he playing Jake Thomas over the freshmen!?!?! Doesn’t he know Thomas leads the team in points and is perfect from the fiel- …oh.

I’m tired of Derrick Wilson. Bring in Duane and play him the entire 40 minutes! Oh, your leg isn’t good enough?? WELL DERRICK CAN PROBABLY RELATE TO THAT!!!

Okay, I may or may not have made all of those up. But really, guys, as much as I pitched into the “Great Depression” on Twitter last night, I woke up today realizing that we’re actually a lot closer to fixing our problems than we think. Maybe knowing that plus the fact that we’ve still gone 1-5 in test games is what hurts the most, but that’s not going to stop us from playing Buzz for a day and guide the team to a hypothetical NCAA tournament. Because as of now, the main focus for fans and players alike isn’t to get a high seed, or win a specific amount of games, but simply to get into the tourney. Give us the 16 seed and have Duke run us out of the building. We don’t care, just let us in. And please, don’t make us play New Mexico. Anyways, about those reasons to believe… four of the five Marquette losses have been by single digits. The other, Ohio State, we were at least tied at the half. In three of the losses, we had a half of basketball where we either tied or outscored the other team. The point is that, believe it or not, we’ve been in every game against elite teams at one point or another. The potential for this Marquette team is clearly there. It’s just a matter of putting the small stuff together and establishing consistency to further aid ourselves on the road to March Madness. However, the question that still lingers is, will we ever be able to “put the small stuff together” or “establish consistency”? And if so, how? That’s where we come in.

Somewhat of a disclaimer: By any means, this column is not meant as a direct shot at Buzz Williams or any member of the coaching staff on their handling of this team. It’s just a way to discuss our ideas for how this team could be fixed. We’d love to hear your ideas as well, so comment your thoughts below or tweet them to us at @Daily_Eagle.

Now, let the games begin.

1. Deploy set plays for best players in closing seconds of a game

  • Sound a little obvious? As we said before, Marquette has been in the game at some point in each of their losses. But not keeping the lead when it’s needed most, especially in the closing minutes of these games, has been their kryptonite so far this season. If you want to win games, you have to plan and emphasize what’s going to happen in the closing minutes of a tight game. It’s a situation that every coach (including Buzz) obviously goes over, but the results for MU have clearly been less-than-satisfying – making this something that needs to be addressed and fixed. We know, it’s hard to make shots late in the game when you don’t have a player who can seemingly convert clutch buckets at will (you know, like this). But we’d be lying if we said there wasn’t a single player capable of being put in a Vander-like situation when the clock starts ticking down – and no, we don’t mean Derrick Wilson. This section is about primarily about Jamil, Jake Thomas and Davante, because we consider them our best late-game options, in that order. We’ve all seen Jamil pick apart defenders on isolation plays, hit impossible shots down the stretch (unfortunately when the game was too far out of reach), and pitch in big-time shots alongside VB last year. Jake Thomas’ shot is starting to fall from all over the court, and Gardner’s physical presence always makes him a valid “put-back” option under the hoop. Whoever it is, we desperately need players to step it up when the game is winding down. Sharing the basketball isn’t effective when it’s a “hit a shot or hit the showers” situation – someone needs to be selfish. And if even an attempt to utilize the best players down the stretch isn’t present sometime during the rest of the season, I’m not sure if I can trust this team late in games.

To be more specific, there’s a number of ways we can do this – emphasize it in film, practice, timeouts, and so on, and then, well, run the plays. If I’m Buzz and I’m down by three with more than 30 seconds left, I’m running a play for Thomas. Less than 30 seconds, Jamil. One or two point game, I’m going Jamil semi-iso with Gardner as an option somewhere around the hoop, and Thomas cutting to the three-point line as a potential kick-out. We saw things like this all of last year, but it’s only been here-and-there this season. I already linked the video above, but look again at the beauty of the iso play used for Vander’s famous layup against Davidson:

Wings thrown in the corner, big sets a pick at the top of the arc, man trailing to set himself at 3-point line.. and it’s all Vander from there. It’s beautiful. Hey, wait a minute, that play looks familiar..

It’s the same play flipped, with a player cutting to the three-point line from under the basket instead of behind Vander. Where has this been all year? Buzz has called these plays before, so why have we looked so lost late in games? If he doesn’t believe in giving the ball to a specific player on this team to take the last shot, then that’s where I have to disagree with him. Maybe Jamil hasn’t been playing “savior ball” because he just hasn’t been given the right opportunities to do so.

2. Find outside-shooting threat at point guard to spread the floor

  • Hey, Duane Wilson! He shot 55% from three in high school! He’s already practicing, and conference play has yet to start. Patience, #mubb fans…

3. Use Jajuan Johnson in the rotation (we’re begging)

  • Is this one too obvious as well? Don’t get me wrong – I’m not asking for 40 minutes worth of JJJ, or 35, or any specific number. Jake Thomas is and should be the primary shooting guard. But Thomas’ three-point barrages have often come in one-half spurts, leaving him with either one or none in the preceding or proceeding half. While I agree you need to keep your hot players on the floor as much as you can, there’s also a need for a change of pace. And since the defense won’t get any better in choosing either one, at least attempt to establish a rotation between the two. There’s no reason why JJJ should prove himself one of the most talented offensive players on the team in boot camp and against lower-caliber games only to ride the bench in games against Ohio State (zero mins), San Diego State (zero mins), New Mexico (7 mins), George Washington (11 mins), Wisconsin (10 mins) and New Hampshire (11 mins). When JJJ was given 25 minutes against Arizona State, he pitched in 9 points on 4-8 shooting (1-3 from three), 3 assists, 3 rebounds and a steal. He’s flourished when given the opportunity, and honestly, we need all the extra help we can get. Now, we’re not assuming he’d produce the same numbers against OSU/San Diego State-level defenses, but what we’re asking for is at least a chance to see what the kid’s got to offer on a bigger stage, especially considering how much the backcourt could use his ability to spread the floor.

4. Finish first in conference play and/or win the Big East tournament

  • Lastly, this is our most tangible way for Marquette to turn this season around and make the tournament. All three of the past suggestions would help towards doing so, but obviously, it’s the result that matters, not the process. So far, this team has given few reasons why they should be called on Selection Sunday, but one has to remember that conference play hasn’t even started yet. It may not look likely to be converted on, but the chance is still there for Marquette to utilize and display their improvement in conference play and/or the Big East tournament. You may be tired of hearing it, but this team still has opportunities left, and signs of life have been on display against elite competition. You and I can’t deny the amount of talent on this team, so as of now, I’m not ready to give up on the Golden Eagles. Let’s just hope history finds a way to repeat itself.

Welcome to the Daily Eagle – a blog and twitter feed of all things Marquette basketball. Follow us on Twitter at @Daily_Eagle for live updates on recruiting, games, facts, and the more-than-occasional opinion. For inquiries, contact us at dailyeagle@yahoo.com.

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