As we've said time and again, there are two, and only two, goals during any non-conference cupcake game in college basketball: first, and most importantly, make sure nobody gets hurt. And two, do your best to get all your kids some run.
That said, nobody's going to complain if you can learn a LITTLE something about your group of players in the process. You never know exactly how a team is going to respond to the rigors of league play (especially during this Big East Last Dance season), of course, but, after playing a dozen non-conference games, you'd like to have some inkling of what to expect -- who's going to give you 15 points night in and night out, who wants the ball in crunch time, who wants to guard the other team's best guy, and so on.
Unfortunately, this season Marquette's play in its dozen non-conference games hasn't told us much about what we can expect when the calendar flips to 2013 and we trade the Savannah States and Colgates of the world for UConn and Pitt and Georgetown and Syracuse. Yesterday's uninspiring 75-66 win over a middling North Carolina Central team that was picked to finish seventh in the MEAC is no exception: we got a whole bunch of questions and very few answers as MU sleepwalked its way past another patsy.
- Does anybody want to put on the big boy pants? Do you know who Marquette's best player is? Who do you want to give the ball to with 8 seconds on the shot clock? I thought Vander Blue might be ready to lay claim to that title, and his 12-point first half against NCCU didn't do anything to dissuade me, but then he went and disappeared -- and I mean disappeared; didn't grab a board, didn't take a shot, didn't do anything on defense -- for 18 minutes in the second half. How does that happen?
- What the hell is wrong with Jamil Wilson? There's inconsistent, and then there's a 0-3-0, three-foul, six-turnover line in 19 minutes against subpar competition that leads your coach to publicly suggest you're about to start losing minutes to a freshman. It breaks my heart to say it, but I'm willing to entertain Mr. Kensington's theory that Jamil is going to end up as his generation's Scott Merritt, which is both OK (in that Merritt was a very good complementary piece on some very good teams) and horribly not OK (in that J. Wilson has more talent in his pinky than Merritt had in his entire body, creepy pencil-thin mustache included).
- Is Junior Cadougan really the best option at point guard? Sixteen points (including 6-7 from the line) and a couple of big buckets down the stretch looks nice, until you see the glowing red "5" in the turnover column. As has oft been written, both here and elsewhere, as Cadougan goes, so goes Marquette. That was definitely true yesterday, as Junior's sloppy play set the tone for a day that ended with 20 Marquette turnovers against just 14 assists. Derrick Wilson, for his part, notched three assists without a turnover in 18 minutes, which makes you wonder if the ship wouldn't get run a bit tighter if he was starting instead of Cadougan.
- Why would anyone play anything other than zone defense against MU? Different day, familiar script: opponent sinks into a zone, Marquette happily bombs away from three-point range with little effect, Marquette struggles to break 20 points in the half. After slicing and dicing LSU's zone in the first 10 minutes a week ago, MU's reverted to form against the bane of its offensive existence, which should make for super good times against Syracuse and Louisville.
- Did we make too big a deal over Trent Lockett's transfer? A few days after Buzz Williams said that he thought Lockett was ready to turn the corner, the ASU transfer logged a mere 11 minutes against NCCU, and with just 18 games left in his college career, we've yet to see why Buzz made such a push to get Lockett to Milwaukee.
- Did we make too little a deal over Todd Mayo's absence? Mayo looked more like himself after a rough debut against LSU, notching 12 points, six rebounds, and a couple of steals, and his putback of a Cadougan miss with 5 minutes to go broke a 60-60 tie. He's the only guy with a serviceable shot from deep (in case you needed to ask: no, Jake Thomas doesn't count), is always around the ball, plays decent D, and isn't afraid to take a shot at a critical moment. It might just be that our fortunes rise and fall with him this year.
- Who's coaching against UConn on Tuesday? Coach Buzz's 48-hour timeout for Scott Monarch's recruiting violations begins on Monday, and we still don't know who's taking the reins in Buzz's absence. The smart money still says Jerry Wainwright, since he's the only member of the coaching staff with head coaching experience, and I'm going to be massively disappointed if they pick someone else and ruin our first Ol' Gil Extravaganza.
That's not an exhaustive list, but I think you get the point. Maybe we got a little bit spoiled with the certainty afforded by Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom last season, but still: it's a bit odd to look at your team's schedule at say: "They could go 11-7 or 9-9 or 6-12 and I wouldn't be surprised." But with January upon us, that's where we are.
Jae Crowder Player of the Year of the Game: It didn't take Todd Mayo too long to get his sea legs, and thank goodness for that, because without his 12 points, 6 boards, two assists, two steals, and block, we might be writing a very different recap tonight.
Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: We're rapidly approaching the point where Derrick Wilson wins so many Fulce awards that it's scientifically impossible for him to be undersung anymore. But we're not at that point yet, so D-Wil gets the nod for his turnover-less performance in 18 efficient minutes.
Davante "Big Smoove" Gardner Smoove Play of the Game: NCCU was still within shouting distance as Marquette was nursing a six-point lead with two minutes to go, but Mayo snared a missed NC Central three-pointer and, after running some clock, Wilson found Vander Blue for a triple that put the game out of reach.
Up Next: Into the meat grinder we go, as the UConn Huskies pay a visit to the BMO Harris Bradley Center at 7:00 p.m. on New Year's Day.