Author: Gary Leverton, firstname.lastname@example.org. Photo: Marquette Athletics.
With every non-conference win, Marquette looks more and more like a team that is ready to compete this year. But for Marquette to consider this a successful start, finishing it off would be the next true step.
After starting off 1-2 with a close loss to Belmont and an ugly and lopsided loss to Iowa, Marquette has since rebounded to win four straight, including victories over LSU and Arizona State. Not only have they won these games, but they have looked like a completely different team in the process. Luke Fischer has established himself as the guy down low, while Traci Carter, Jajuan Johnson, Sandy Cohen III, and especially Duane Wilson have shot the ball significantly better. Even Haanif Cheatham has made small improvements. And of course there is Henry Ellenson, who is unlikely to disappoint most nights. Concern over depth, especially any big guys behind Fischer, defense, and high turnover numbers still show this team has a long way to go. But what they are doing right now sure beats the heck out of losing.
Still, as good as Marquette has looked, the non-conference slate isn’t over yet and there are plenty of opportunities to impress, or not. Remember, these games are going to count at the end of the year and could be the difference between dancing or not.
Marquette can not only impress by beating Wisconsin at the Kohl Center, but can also look good by doing what they did against Grambling State on Wednesday: beating weaker opponents into oblivion.
Avoiding a bad loss during non-conference play is as, if not more, crucial to Marquette’s resume. An early season loss to Belmont can probably be forgiven. They’re pretty good and should be competitive in their conference. So can a loss to Iowa who will be a competitor in the Big Ten. And winning at the Kohl Center is always difficult, so losing that wouldn’t be the end of the world. (Although who wouldn’t want that victory on their resume.)
But how about a loss to San Jose State, or Chicago State, or how about Presbyterian College. Does anybody really think the committee isn’t going to remember a loss to Presbyterian College? No offense to them, as I’m sure they are a fine school, but if Marquette has tournament dreams and beyond, they need to win handily.
Winning those games also does something that most people don’t really think about and that is build confidence. Confidence is everything in any sport, and the more confidence and momentum a team has, the harder it is to beat them. How confident would Marquette players if they finished the non-conference slate 10-2 or 9-3, positioning themselves for a shot at a tournament berth. The Big East is going to be tough and Marquette has to be confident they can compete.
So when Marquette takes the court on Saturday against Maine and throughout the next two weeks, they have a chance to prove to themselves and everybody else that the time for rebuilding is over and an NCAA tournament team is lurking.
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