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Glass Half-Full, Glass Half-Empty: Off On The Right Foot Edition

As YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles prepare for tomorrow's tilt against the State College of New Jersey, let's review five reasons to be excited and five reasons to fret after last week's action.

Five seashells and balloons to start us off:

1) Marquette's offense has been really, really good in the last two games.  Against Vanderbilt, on the road, Marquette shot a startling 56% from the field -- and its eFG% was an astounding 60.5%.  Marquette followed that performance by shooting at a 52% clip against West Virginia (with an eFG% of 57.0%).  On top of that, Marquette was reasonably careful with the ball -- 11 turnovers vs. Vandy, 10 turnovers against WVU -- grabbed a ton of offensive boards (14) vs. WVU, and passed the ball very well (17 assists on 34 buckets vs. Vandy, 22 assists on 30 buckets vs. WVU). These are very good numbers against very good competition.  When things are clicking, this team is a force on offense.
2) Addition by subtraction? The surprising transfer of guard Reggie Smith shortened the rotation and clarified the roles of the remaining guards.  Going forward, we know (or expect) that Dwight Buycks is going to start and, in all likelihood, see 25-30 minutes, and Junior Cadougan will spell Buycks at the point.  Depending on the match-ups, Vander Blue could be the third guard in the starting lineup, or he'll be the first guy off the bench, spelling DJO or Buycks and taking over for short stints at point guard.  I'm a firm believer that players perform at their best when they have defined roles on the team.  We've got that now.

3) Options: we've got options!  Last year, in close-and-late situations, Marquette's options were pretty limited.  If we needed a three-pointer, the ball was going to Lazar Hayward.  But since 'Zar struggled with his handle, if we needed someone to create for himself, the ball had to go to Jimmy Butler.  This year, with the emergence of Jae Crowder and Buycks' development, we've got options a-plenty: need a jumper? DJO, Crowder, and Buycks are all capable options.  Need a drive?  DJO and Jimmy are available, and Crowder's shown an impressive ability to get to the tin, as well.  It hasn't necessarily manifested itself in close games yet, but it's nice to know that the opposition can't key on one guy in the last couple minutes of the game.

4) It looks like the football pads got busted out in practice before the Vandy game.  After getting hammered on the backboards by the likes of Gonzaga (42-26 on total rebounds, with the Zags grabbing 17 offensive rebounds), Wisconsin (15 offensive rebounds), and even UW-Milwaukee (31-21), Marquette has held its own on the glass in the last two games.  The taller Commodores only outrebounded Marquette by four (32-28), and Marquette grabbed eight more total rebounds (32-24) and four more offensive rebounds (13-9) than the Mountaineers.  This team is never going to butter its bread on the boards, that's for sure, but after getting crushed in the early-going, these numbers are encouraging.

5) 1-0 in conference is a hell of a lot better than 0-1. 'Nuff said.

What's the opposite of seashells and balloons?  Fish guts and flat tires?  Whatever it is, here are five reasons to be concerned:

1) Marquette's offense was incredibly good against Vanderbilt -- and we lost.  Simply put: if you shoot 56% for the game, put together an eFG% over 60%, and only turn the ball over 11 times, there is no reason to lose the game.  But despite those gaudy offensive numbers, Marquette still fell to Vanderbilt last Wednesday.  The culprit, of course, is MU's shoddy defense, which blogfathers Cracked Sidewalks covered yesterday in painstaking (and painful to read) detail.  Marquette is terrible defending the three, struggles against backdoor cuts and paint flashes, can't seem to figure out how to play a zone, and no longer has the depth to run an effective press.  As promising as the offense is, the defense is just as troubling.

2) Subtraction by subtraction? Don't look now, but with Reggie Smith's transfer, Marquette is back to a seven-man rotation once again: DJO, Jimmy, Jae, Chris Otule, Buycks, Vander, and Junior.  (Actually, it's probably a seven-and-a-half man rotation, with Joe Fulce only able to go for a few minutes at a time because of his bum wheel.)  Jamail Jones and Erik Williams played a combined ONE minute vs. Vandy and vs. West Virginia, and Davante Gardner got three minutes of run vs. Vanderbilt before getting a DNP vs. West Virginia.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again: every year we come in talking about our improved depth, and every year we're down to a seven-man rotation in January.  Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.

3) Free throw woes.  Marquette wasn't good from the line against West Virginia (14-21 on throws for the game), especially late: in the last minute of the game, DJO missed the front end of a one-and-one, Crowder missed the first throw after he was intentionally fouled, and Jimmy split a pair on the ensuing possession.  It was much the same story against Vanderbilt, as the team hit seven of thirteen throws in an eventual one-point loss.  Coach Buzz thinks this team is in for a lot of one-possession games in the Big East this season, and, if that's the case, throws will be critical.

4) Zone busted? Marquette's offense against a zone defense looked much improved in Saturday's game vs. West Virginia, but part of the reason it looked so good was that Jae hit every shot he threw up, and Johnson-Odom couldn't miss in the second half.  Most of 'em were good looks, that's for sure, but we probably can't bank on shooting performances like that going forward.

5) The conference schedule looked a lot less imposing before the season.  With mirror games against Seton Hall, Notre Dame, and UConn, Marquette's Big East schedule didn't look too terrifying before the season started.  But since then, Notre Dame has come out of the gates blazing, swiping a couple of impressive non-conference victories before dumptrucking Georgetown in its Big East opener and playing Syracuse close for most of the game on Saturday.  Meanwhile, UConn beat (seemingly) every Top 5 team in its non-conference slate, and features the always-dangerous Kemba Walker, who can shoot his team back into (or, to be fair, right out of) any game.