New year, same recipe: saddled with a bankrupt defensive philosophy against perimeter-oriented teams and a moribund, directionless offense, YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles got run out of the gym by the fired-up, fire-bombing Creighton Bluejays on New Year's Eve, as the conference newcomers breezed to a 67-49 win in Omaha.
We knew coming into the game that Buzz Williams' insistence on doubling on every Creighton paint touch was going to be problematic, given that Buzz's strategy leads to a boatload of wide-open looks from 3-point range and that Creighton features a whopping FIVE players who shoot over 40% from distance. And as soon as Lego-haired menace Doug McDermott sank his first 3-point attempt just seconds into the game, the writing was probably on the wall for MU.
Still and all: at the end of the day, Marquette's defensive effort wasn't atrocious, save for the last 5 minutes of the game, when MU folded up shop and didn't even feign interest on the defensive end, allowing the likes of Grant "AARP" Gibbs to drive to the basket and grab offensive rebounds at his leisure. For the game, though, CU managed 1.05 points per possession (they average 1.18 for the year), missed 22 of their 3-point attempts, and only went to the free throw line four times while coughing up 13 turnovers.
The more pressing concern is Marquette's rudderless offense, which was stuck in quicksand for the first 30 minutes of the game. Outside of Chris Otule (10 points on 4-6 shooting, including a nifty up-and-under move following an offensive rebound that nobody knew was in his repertoire) and Occasional Jamil Wilson* (10 points on 5-8 shooting), Marquette was reduced to heaping helpings of Hero Ball from Todd Mayo and Deonte Burton. That went about as well as you'd expect it would.
* You know how Adrian Peterson's nickname (well, one of them, at least) is "All Day"? I'm suggesting something similar for Jamil here.
How bad are things on the offensive side of the ball? This is Buzz Williams' sixth year at Marquette. In order, his teams have finished with the following national ranking, offensively, on KenPom: 12th, 22nd, 21st, 35th, and 25th. This year, Marquette's national ranking on offense is 116th, putting them in the heady company of teams like St. Bonaventure, Louisiana Lafayette, Georgia, and Santa Clara.
The reason for that plummeting offensive ranking, put into ridiculously simple terms, is that Marquette does nothing well on offense. MU has been broke from the perimeter since Darius Johnson-Odom graduated in 2012, and this year is no exception, as Marquette's 30.2% shooting from distance ranks 284th nationally. Last year's squad, of course, was even worse from 3-point range (29.6%), but it compensated with ruthless efficiency on two-point attempts (51.6%) and getting to the line early and often (40.6% free throw rate, good for 45th nationally, and 73% team free throw shooting). This year's team is middling in both of those categories, ranking 123rd in two-point field goal percentage and 137th in free throw rate. Throw in a mediocre turnover rate (18.1%, ranking 151st nationally) and you've got a team that's stuck in neutral.
Even more concerning than the numbers, though, is this: when you look at the composition of the roster, there appears to be precious little room for improvement, let alone the kind of significant improvement that would be needed to have a shot at sneaking into the NCAA Tournament. Jamil Wilson is who he is (capable of flashes of brilliance, but incapable of putting the team on his back game in and game out), Chris Otule has maxed out his limited potential, Davante Gardner gets lost in the wash with opponents packing the paint, I've already said everything I need to and them some about Jake Thomas, Juan Anderson's ceiling is 10-point, 7-rebound glue guy, and Todd Mayo has no idea what it means to play on a basketball team.
The main issue, obviously, remains the point guard position. We have a tendency to overuse the term "crippling" when it comes to sports, but there's no better word to describe the impact Derrick Wilson has on Marquette's offense. He's completely abandoned his outside shot, his confidence is gone, he's averaging 2.6 assists per game in Marquette's six losses (and that number drops to 1.8 assists per game if you take out the 7-assist outlier against Arizona State) and things have devolved to the point that he's bricking wide-open 2-footers when the ball falls in his lap after a scrum under the basket. You can't win with somebody like that getting 30 minutes a night at such a crucial position. You just can't.
As things stand now, the only team that I'm sure Marquette can beat with this tire fire of an offense is DePaul. (Seton Hall was on the list, too, and they probably will be again, but I haven't had time to figure out what the hell happened at the Dunkin Donuts Center yesterday.) Everything else is a question mark, at best.
So. Yeah. Happy New Year.
Jae Crowder Player of the Year of the Game: Chris Otule wasn't in the game all that much, logging just 21 minutes, and he didn't manage a rebound on defense as he was forced to follow Ethan Wragge around the perimeter. Still, the big man snagged five boards on the offensive end and led the team with 10 points.
Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: He's not there yet (although he's getting close), and sometimes his body is moving faster than his brain, but Deonte Burton leaves it all on the floor. Yesterday, that added up to 9 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals in 20 minutes of action.
Davante "Big Smoove" Gardner Smoove Play of the Game: With 4 minutes and change in the first half, Jamil Wilson skied to swat McDermott's shot, then managed to corral the ball and bring it up court before sticking a jumper that drew Marquette within 8.
Up Next: DePaul Day comes early for MU, as the perenially downtrodden Blue Demons pay a visit to the Bradley Center on Saturday afternoon.