Turkey Day is Thursday which means the Thanksgiving college hoops tournaments are getting underway with plenty of great match ups scheduled this week between top 25 teams. Marquette, now 4-0, will face two top 25 teams in the CBE Classic on Monday and Tuesday before facing off against crosstown "rival" UW-Milwaukee Panthers on Saturday at the Cell. Without any further ado, here are the Glass Half-Full observations from this past weekend:
(1) In Buzz I Trust! Congratulations are in order for Coach Buzz Williams, who notched his 50th victory as Marquette's head coach over the weekend. When Smarmy Tom Crean left for Indiana on April 1, 2008, the future success of the Marquette basketball program was in question. However, with the hiring of a relative unknown in Coach Buzz, Marquette continues to remain very competitive in the Big East. Prior to becoming head coach, Coach Williams was known as a solid recruiter and has helped land Marquette two highly-ranked recruiting classes. In addition to his on-court success, Coach Williams places a high priority on his faith and helping develop his players into better young men which fits the ideals of Marquette University.
(2) Post "Presence." Chris Otule had a career high 15 points on Saturday, finally flashing glimpses of the big man Marquette fans have dreamed of since the 2003 Final Four. Also, freshman Davante Gardner has logged only 38 minutes thus far but has scored 39 points. Granted: these numbers were against inferior opponents with less size and athleticism than we'll see in the Big East, but Otule and Gardner have the potential to develop into a formidable post presence over the next few years for the Golden Eagles.
(3) Lazar Hayward Jr. A big question mark coming into this year was who was going to fill the shoes of Lazar Hayward. Jimmy Butler has taken the reins as team leader, but quietly Jae Crowder has become the main spark plug off the bench, averaging 11 points and 8 rebounds per game. I'm feeling very confident in my Newcomer of the Year Award pre-season prediction for Jae. He seems to have a nose for the ball and is very active on the boards and has shown a nice shooting touch from long range. Its a shame we'll only get to see Jae for two seasons as a Golden Eagle. He joins Jimmy Butler, DJO, Fulce, and Buycks as home run JUCO players that Buzz Williams has brought to MU. Although JUCOs sometimes get an unfair bad rap, I wouldn't be suprised if JUCOs continue to be a part of future recruiting classes.
(4) Under Pressure. The depth and athleticism of this team as a whole will allow Coach Williams to apply defensive pressure on its opponents in the hopes of forcing turnovers, changing tempos, and swinging momentum. A clear example of how this can change a game would be the defensive pressure applied in the 24-0 run against Bucknell.
Seeing as though I've be categorized as one of the Glass Half-Full contributors to this blog, I'll try and channel my inner Rubie/Warrior Brad and provide the Glass Half-Empty Nattering Nabobs of Negativity observations as well:
(1) Cupakes are Great and All... I love cupcakes just as much as the next guy, but it's the meat and potatoes that determine the success of a meal (how's that for an analogy). Our first serving of meat and potatoes comes in the form of the #1 Duke Blue Devils followed by a game with either Gonzaga or Kansas State. Obviously these games will provide a good barometer for where we stand. Once again we'll be the under-dogs, a role we've come to relish over the two plus years under Coach Buzz, and no one is expecting us to win a game in the CBE Classic. Hopefully we can be competitive and although we may not win either game, a solid performance in both games should help the team's confidence as we play out the remaining non-conference games and head into Big East play.
(2) DJ-Oh No. One of the strengths of the Golden Eagles last year was their three-point shooting, led by newcomer Darius Johnson-Odom who, according to Rubie, was poised to become the best three-point shooter in team history. The Anonymous Eagle curse is in full effect as DJO is just 2 for 12 (17%) on treys this year after shooting a solid 47% from long range last year. In fact, he's passing up wide open looks in favor of driving to the hoop. This strategy has been successful against our opponents thus far but it remains to be seen if he can be as effective against better opponents if he's not hitting his three-point shots. The team as a whole is only shooting 32.5%, so its not just an issue for DJO.
(3) Did Someone Call a Doctor? The front court depth took a bit of hit as we learned that Joe Fulce was suffering from knee issues and Davante Gardner left the game Saturday with a shoulder problem. Fulce may miss a few weeks and Gardner is day-to-day. Granted, both of these players figured to be role players as the season progressed, but their presence may come in handy based on certain match-ups or if foul trouble arises.
(4) Charity? Stripe. Marquette continues to struggle from the line, shooting only 65% on freebies thus far. The good news is they are averaging 34 attempts per game so far. Everyone knows the importance of free throws and it's hard to tell if its mental or mechanics, but I for one hope they figure out their free throw shooting woes before it costs us a close game.