Ready or not, it's time for your weekly serving of five reasons to feel good about Marquette basketball, and five reasons to fret. This ... is Glass Half-Full, Glass Half-Empty.
Seashells and balloons first, because that's how I roll:
(1) The team made it back safely from Kansas City. No mass transit disasters, no outbreaks of cholera on the charter, and, according to Coach Buzz's post-game interview after the UW-M near-debacle, the food on the plane was plentiful, delicious, and healthy. Wheee.
(2) He's baaaack. For the first time this year, we saw the Darius Johnson-Odom of old: Mr. Instant Offense, the guy who can score 22 points in the first half of a game with a variety of three-pointers, slashes to the basket, and mid-range jumpers. When DJO's on, there aren't many better offensive weapons in college basketball, if there are any at all.
(3) There's a point guard in the house! Who shall I send, asked the Lord. Who shall run the offense for my Golden Eagles?
SEND ME! said the pass-first, 110%-effort, formerly-chubby point guard from the Great White North. I will go.
And the Lord was pleased.
I've been wracking my brain, trying to figure out the last time we had a point guard who didn't look for his own offense first and worry about his teammates second. Dom James in his senior year probably qualifies, I think, but, before that ... Travis Diener didn't fit that mold. Cordell Henry didn't really fit that mold. Aaron Hutchins didn't really fit that mold. Is it Tony Miller? Maybe it's Tony Miller. ANYWAY, I'm very happy with Junior Cadougan's continued development, and even more excited that I don't have to completely retract the scouting report I gave to Raptors HQ on Junior.
(4) We're right where we thought we'd be after seven games. Things haven't gone exactly to plan thus far -- a win against a depleted and shook Gonzaga squad in the CBE Classic would have been nice, and another twenty-plus point victory against UW-Milwaukee would have done wonders for my blood pressure -- but Marquette is still 5-2, with the two losses coming in games that Marquette wasn't expected to win before the season began. And, yeah, there are a lot of kinks to be worked out, but keep in mind: it's December 1. We've got a month to figure this thing out before we hit the meat grinder.
(5) We didn't ACTUALLY lose to UW-Milwaukee. Maybe Marquette should have lost to UW-M on Saturday, and maybe they deserved to, and, hellz yeah, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned going forward. (More on that in a second.) Still and all: Marquette didn't actually lose the game, and, if you believe KenPom, it was never much of a question. At the end of the year, that game will just be another check in the left-hand column (that's the win column, right).
Now, onto the storm clouds:
(1) For all that talk about our improved depth ...: Don't look now, but, with Davante Gardner and Joe Fulce out (and with no timetable for Fulce's return), we're back to a seven-man rotation: DJO, Buycks, Junior, Otule, Jimmy, Jae, and Vander. Reggie Smith has taken up residence in the doghouse formerly occupied by Junior -- I don't think Reggie even bothered to take off his warm-ups on Saturday -- and Jamail Jones is sharing the Erik Williams-patented "Good Offense, But Can't Be Trusted on D" role with, um, Erik Williams. For the time being, anyway, our bench is just as short as it's been in years past.
(2) He was just baaaack. Where'd he go? In case you forgot (it was been five whole paragraphs since we talked about it, after all), DJO was sublime in the first twenty minutes against UW-Milwaukee: five-for-five on threes, getting his shot whenever and wherever he wanted it, et cetera, et cetera. UW-M couldn't slow him down, let alone stop him.
And then, for some reason, DJO started deferring mightily to his teammates in the second half. He only attempted two threes in the final twenty minutes (missing both), and he scored just seven points after intermission. All of a sudden, he was a rottweiler sharing his chunk of beef with a bunch of labradoodles.
I will paraphrase Scarface in Half Baked (a Half Baked reference in Half-Full, Half-Empty? Yeah. I just did that):
KILLER KILL, DJO!
(3) Doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past? Following the bed-befouling performance in the first round of the NCAA tournament vs. Washington last year, I wondered aloud about Marquette's penchant for running up big leads only to let the opponent back into the game in a matter of minutes. It happened vs. Florida State, it happened against U-Dub -- we got ahead comfortably and then went tail-between-the-legs, playing timidly and eschewing the aggressive approach that resulted in the big lead in the first place.
I really can't stomach another year like that, and the UW-M game didn't exactly inspire confidence in our ability to close out opponents. Up 27-11 at the ten minutes mark of the first half, up 12 at halftime, up 18 with seventeen minutes left in the second half, up 11 with three minutes and change left ... and a two-point nailbiter is the end result. It's time to channel your inner Scorpion, boys:
(4) They don't call us Misters Glass. This one is related to our (supposed) improved depth: with Otule and Gardner, plus Jimmy and Jae, Marquette was supposed to have the power down low to hold its own on the glass. That hasn't been the case; look no further than the UW-Milwaukee game, where the Panthers outrebounded Marquette by 12. Otule gets pushed around (and pushed out of the paint) far too easily for a seven-footer, and Crowder -- despite leading the team in boards (6.6 rpg, in only 23 minutes per) -- still has lapses where he gives up inexcusable offensive rebounds, like the bunny UW-M cashed in to make it a three-point contest with 10 seconds left on Saturday.
(5) My likes for Buycks is wavering. I've been driving the Dwight Buycks fanmobile hard in the early part of the 2010-'11 season, but his last few performances are making me consider driving the thing into a G**damn bridge abutment. In the first couple of games, Buycks played within himself, running the offense with aplomb, taking (and making) good shots and taking care of the basketball. But the games against Duke, Gonzaga, and UW-Milwaukee saw something of a return to the Bad Buycks of early last year, the gunner who took questionable shots and got reckless with the ball all too frequently. As I said in the UW-M game recap, the offense looks more fluid and more efficient with Junior at the helm. But, whether its the optimal use of his talents or not, we're going to need Buycks to spell Junior and run the offense for stretches this year. I hope he gets back to Good Buycks -- and the sooner the better.