Rubie sez: We've been kicking around ideas for recurring posts during the season, and this is the first one we've settled on. We call it "Glass Half-Full, Glass Half-Empty," and the idea is this: after every game (and, during the pastry portion of the non-conference schedule, once a week), the Eternal Optimists among us will provide five reasons to get excited about MU, while the Nattering Nabobs of Negativity -- HELLO! -- will provide five reasons to worry.
Got it? Good! Let's go:
The sun is shining, the bluebirds are chirping, Marquette is 2-0 and all's right with the world. Courtesy of Mr. Kensington, Warrior Brad, Soft Pretzel with Cheese, and Admiral Ackbar, here's why:
(1) Is that a big man in the congregation? Be honest: can you remember the last time you said to yourself, "Marquette needs to work inside and get the big fella a look here" in the second half of a close game? And yet, there was freshman big man Davante Gardner -- he of the many nicknames, Big Smoove being my favorite -- making a couple critical baskets during the game-turning 24-0 run vs. Bucknell. For a team that's lacked a capable big since the days of Big Rob Jackson, that's reassuring.
And, let's double your pleasure: sophomore Chris Otule hasn't been half-bad either, dumping in a couple baskets in the early going vs. Bucknell and holding his own on both ends of the court. Considering Marquette's recent history with big men, this counts as an embarrassment of riches.
(2) I LIKES BUYCKS. Rubie wasn't kidding in the comments to the Morning Coffee: an "I LIKES BUYCKS" T-shirt, complete with old-timey political candidate button, is definitely under consideration. After an up-and-down junior season, the Milwaukee native has shown signs of putting it all together in the early-going: pressed into duty as a point guard, Dwight has done what's asked of him, limiting his turnovers, taking good shots, and racking up seven assists in an impressive season-opener on Friday. Buycks seems to have earned Coach Buzz's trust, too: on Friday, whenever Reggie Smith or Junior Cadougan made a boneheaded mistake, Coach Buzz would turn to #23 on the bench, jerk his thumb over his shoulder, and yell: "BUYCKS! GO!"
(3) Fifteen Minutes of Heck. How long have Marquette fans salivated over squads that could ratchet up the full court defense and change the game? The Eagles did that this Sunday, harassing Bucknell into submission during the pivotal second-half run.
(4) On a related note: let the bodies hit the floor. It should be obvious, but just in case it needs to be said: you can't play 94 feet if you only go six deep. Marquette played 11 guys on Sunday, nine of 'em for 11 minutes or more. Early returns point to this team being the deepest Marquette squad in years. This depth gives MU some breathing room if/when injuries strike. More importantly, it gives Buzz match-up options: MU can go big with Crowder, Butler and Gardner along the front line, small with any combination of the guards or athletic with Jimmy at the five and guards and wings around the perimeter.
(5) Didn't get shook. The Bucknell game showed that this team has heart and character. Marquette didn't get rattled despite the double-digit second half deficit and pulled out the victory. Most impressive was that some unsung heroes came to the rescue. This team is led by DJO and Jimmy Butler, but Buycks, Jae Crowder and Gardner led MU to victory during the decisive second half run. That depth of playmakers has to sooth the concerns of many Marquette fans.
Feeling better? Feeling good? Then Rubie, Warrior Brad and Admiral Ackbar -- THERE'S THAT MAN AGAIN -- will bring you Pollyannas back down to earth:
(1) Bucknell is good, sure, but they're not THAT good: Maybe it's just me, but I feel like we were overselling Bucknell before they got to town. Yes, they had an impressive second-half run in the Patriot League in 2010. Yes, they returned almost all of their scoring, rebounding, assistisisting, etc. Yes, they gave Villanova a pretty good game in Philly last Friday, and, yes, the sixteen-point margin of victory for the Wildcats didn't tell you how close the game really was.
Still: let's not kid ourselves. Bucknell is not Butler. Bucknell isn't a threat to steal an at-large slot in the tournament this year. And if they swipe the Patriot League title, they'll be rewarded with a 13 seed -- and, yeah, maybe they sneak up on someone and steal a first-round game, but: come on. This isn't the type of team that should be leading you by double digits in the second half on your own court.
(2) Marquette's half-court defense is a mess. Marquette's defense looked alright against Prairie View, but that comes with a salt-lick size grain of salt, since Prairie View A&M is, you know, terrible and can't shoot and is reckless with the ball. It was a different story against Bucknell: Marquette forced a ton of turnovers, but almost all of them came against the desperation full-court press. In the half court set, Bucknell found a number of wide-open looks, and, perhaps more alarming, Marquette couldn't find anyone to slow down Bucknell gunner Bryson Johnson, who was unconscious in the first half. In years past, if a guard got going against MU, we'd shift Jerel McNeal onto him (or sic Dom James on 'im, during DJ's sublime senior year), and last year, David Cubillan was serviceable filling the same role. Now, our best option is probably Vander, which is a lot to ask of a freshman.
(3) It's very early, but DJO's been MIA: Simply: DJO should be able to put up 17-20 ppg in his sleep against PVUAM and Bucknell. Teams like that shouldn't be able to slow him down, let alone shut him down. Thus far, though, DJO hasn't been able to get untracked, and he took himself out of the game vs. Bucknell with some poorly conceived bullrushes into the lane that resulted in offensive fouls.
(4) Zone Busted: Last year, Marquette developed a potent offense against a zone defense that involved Lazar Hayward flashing to the free throw line, taking an entry pass, and initiating the offense. With Mo Acker, David Cubillan, and Johnson-Odom standing around the three-point line, zones got stretched, space was created, and good times were had. Against Bucknell, though, without Hayward and without three capable shooters (though: Buycks' jumper looks gorgeous thus far), the zone gave Marquette fits. Blue's jumper is inconsistent at this point, and Junior isn't a threat to score, so the burden is going to fall to Buycks and DJO and ... Reggie? Erik Williams? Jamail Jones? Still up in the air at this point.
(5) The lack of an established point guard: Buycks has been a pleasant surprise, of course, but he's not really a point guard. Reggie Smith has shown flashes, but it's hard to tab a rookie as your floor general. Cadougan might be the long-term answer, but he's been spotty on D -- a huge black mark on a Buzz Williams-coached team. Someone needs to claim this job, and the sooner the better.