On Saturday, I watched Derrick Wilson and Jake Thomas play a combined 65 minutes out of a possible 90 minutes. They combined to shoot 2-7 from the floor, grab six rebounds, hand out eight assists, turn the ball over five times, and commit five fouls.
Meanwhile, Ryan Arcidiacono, Darrun Hilliard, and James Bell, Villanova's three perimeter guys, were busy having career days. That trio had 70 (!) of the Wildcats' 94 points on 21-42 shooting, and when they weren't burying shots left and right, they were stuffing the stat sheet. 13 rebounds, 15 assists and a block, and they did it with near ruthless efficiency, committing three turnovers between them (none by Arcidiacono), and only committing six fouls.
Now Marquette sits at 11-9 overall, and 3-4 in league play. KenPom.com currently predicts Marquette to finish 8-10, although a more positive minded person would point out 1) individual game predictions has MU at nine wins and 2) included in the losses are trips to Seton Hall and St. John's, both of which you'd like to think that Marquette can find a way to win. A more negative minded person would point out the rampaging dumpster fire that is Marquette's defense in conference games (106.6 points per 100 possessions) and that the wins include home dates with Providence, Butler, Georgetown, and Xavier. A more neutral minded person would point out that Marquette is nowhere near an NCAA tournament caliber profile and will probably have to run the table in the regular season to earn an at large bid and point at both the positive and negative views for reasons why that's probably not happening.
So, why are Wilson and Thomas on the floor? They're not playing defense, regardless of how much Buzz Williams wants to claim Wilson's a great on the ball defender and Thomas plays to the scouting report. It's not for offense, as Wilson can't shoot, and most of the stats I listed above (five rebounds, seven assists) are Wilson's, leaving Thomas with very little positive impact on the game.
Even worse, their struggles are coming at the expense of other players. Jake Thomas is a senior and will be gone next year, along with Jamil Wilson, Chris Otule, and Davante Gardner, all of whom are in the starting lineup now. Even with an overtime period, Marquette's bench played a total of 64 of the possible 225 minutes in the game. You have a senior dependent team that's on the verge of going nowhere fast with a 1-7 record against KenPom top 50 teams, and there's only five more of those games currently on the schedule.
It's time to look to the future.
As things stand right now, here's next year's opening day roster:
- Guards: Todd Mayo, Derrick Wilson, John Dawson, Jajuan Johnson, Duane Wilson, Ahmed Hill
- Forwards: Juan Anderson, Steve Taylor, Deonte Burton, Sandy Cohen, Marial Shayok
- Centers: Luke Fischer, Satchel Pierce
And remember: Luke Fischer can't play until mid-December. Five of those other guys are going to have to start Marquette's first 10 or so games, and another five will have to provide backup minutes. Those 10 games will likely include hosting Wisconsin and Arizona State, traveling to Ohio State, and participating in an Old Spice Classic that includes Kansas, Michigan State, Tennessee, and Xavier.
In past seasons, Buzz has shown that he doesn't rely on newcomers to provide the spark for his teams. This season, he's reinforced this, given the limited playing time for Burton, Dawson, and Johnson. However, in each season, Buzz has had a reliable senior class to depend on. From The Three Amigos to Lazar/Cubillian/Acker to Jimmy Butler & Dwight Buycks to Jae Crowder & DJO, to Trent Lockett & Junior Cadougan, to this year with that aforementioned group.
Next year? It's Anderson, Mayo, and Derrick Wilson, and that group is not scaring anyone in the Big East. Next year will depend on the development of the returning non-seniors. Marquette will need the seven players who have seen game time this year to be a rock solid core, because they will have no choice but to turn to the freshmen for key minutes. But the only way that they will become that core is by getting their freshman jitters out of their system now.
John Dawson needs to play.
Deonte Burton needs to play.
Jajuan Johnson, when his ankle sprain is healed, needs to play.
Wilson and Thomas aren't getting the job done, and there's no reason to believe that they will suddenly turn things around. Dawson, Burton, and Johnson might not provide that turnaround, either. But we're looking at March of 2015 here, and Marquette will need that trio to be ready to get them there.