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No. 5/5 UConn 76, Marquette 68

At this point in the season, following yet another game that featured Marquette gacking away a second-half lead while Coach Buzz Williams watched helplessly as his team couldn't get a single defensive stop in crunch time, it's time to confront some sobering truths:

  • It's time to stop pretending that this is last year's team.  Instead, it's time to acknowledge that that crew, led by three seniors filling critical roles (primary scorer and primary ballhandlers/point guards, respectively), turned a remarkable trick, recovering from a seemingly-devastating 2-5 start in the Big East with a 9-1 roar to the finish.  That kind of stuff doesn't happen every year.  That kind of stuff doesn't happen every five years.  We shouldn't expect this team, which starts two second-year players, two first-year players (counting Otule), and one third-year player, to react to obstacles the same way.
  • It's time to stop pretending that the games against Notre Dame (at home) and against DePaul were anything other than flukes, defense-wise.  Instead, after a game in which Marquette AGAIN gave up more than 1.1 points per possession, it's time to admit that this team is broken defensively.  Fifteen-point runs in the second half might happen by accident once, folks, but not three times in two weeks, and they certainly don't happen to serviceable defensive teams.
  • It's time to stop pretending that this team is well coached.  Instead, it's time to admit that Coach Buzz has done an incredibly poor job preparing this team to play the kind of defense that's required in the Big East.  The game plan tonight, in particular, was comical.  Somehow, we didn't realize that double- and triple-teaming Kemba Walker at every turn would lead to wide open looks under the basket for UConn's bigs.  And the policy of doubling on every paint touch again proved disastrous tonight, as the Huskies simply dumped the ball into the waiting arms of the help-side player.
  • Most importantly: it's time to stop pretending that this team can learn from its mistakes.  The same problems that vexed Marquette in losses to Gonzaga, to Wisconsin, at Louisville, and at Notre Dame continue to rear their heads, and there's no sign that anything's being done to address them.  More particularly, in the case of tonight's game: how many times did a Marquette player barrel aimlessly into the lane, trying to force a transition bucket when there wasn't a bucket for the taking?  Five times?  Eight times?  Point is: it was still happening in the second half, long after we should've learned better.

A few quick notes:

  • In the wake of his passive performance against Notre Dame, Jimmy Butler vowed: "Never again."  By and large, he was true to his word tonight, taking over the game for a stretch in the second half and finishing with a team-high 21 points to go along with eight boards and three assists in 39 minutes. 
  • Junior Cadougan: getting there.  Not quite there yet, but getting there.
  • Darius Johnson-Odom fell back into his frustrating habit of running very, very hot and very, very cold in the same game: he sizzled at the start and finished with ten first-half points, but he was invisible for sizable chunks of the game and ended with 18.  The way his jumper looked in the early going, you thought DJO might be in for a big night.  Alas.
  • Coach Buzz doesn't want to hear it, apparently, but facts are facts: in the last two weeks, Vander Blue has hit the freshman wall, and he's hit it hard
  • Jae Crowder did his best to turn this contest into his personal game of HORSE with Kemba, and the results were gruesome: 4-13 from the field, including 1-6 from three.  Fight a gunner with a gunner, I guess?

Awards, I suppose:

Jimmy Butler Player of the Game Award: JFB gave it everything he had.  I just wish the team had looked to him more than once during the critical run when UConn grabbed the game by the throat.

Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: Collect your prize, Junior Cadougan, in part because of your solid 20-minute stint, in part because the rest of the bench -- including our man Joe -- was pretty bad. 

Play of the Game: It sounds like DJO's one-handed dunk is getting some play on SportsCenter tonight, thanks to Dickey Simpkins' interesting call of the action.

Up Next: The Syracuse Orange roll into town on Saturday for a 2:00 p.m. tip, having just absorbed a 20-point throttling at the hands of Seton Hall in the Carrier Dome.  A pissed off 'Cuse team: yeah, that's just what the doctor ordered.