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What Is Marquette’s Biggest Problem Right Now?

Something is wrong with the Golden Eagles after they dropped to 2-3 in Big East play on Wednesday night, but the words of a coaching legend might hold the solution.

Syndication: Journal Sentinel Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Marquette men’s basketball has lost two straight games for the first time since March 2022. It is just the fourth time that Shaka Smart has lost consecutive games as head coach of the Golden Eagles, and all of the first three came in his first season in charge. Two of those involved exclusively losing games away from Fiserv Forum in downtown Milwaukee.

Wednesday night’s loss to Butler marked the third straight game where Marquette failed to connect on half of their two-point field goal attempts. It was the third time in the past five games where Marquette failed to connect on at least 34% of their three-point attempts. In MU’s five losses this season, Marquette has not hit 30% of their three-point attempts in four of them. As recently as Tuesday, our friends over at Paint Touches documented the offensive struggles of the Golden Eagles, and Wednesday night was more of the same.

But how to fix it? That answer lies beyond my grasp at this point, and after Shaka Smart noted that Kam Jones hit nine three-pointers in 5-on-5 action in practice on Tuesday before missing nine of his 10 attempts from behind the arc against the Bulldogs, I’m not entirely sure if Smart and his staff have answers, either.

But Marquette losing to Butler wasn’t the biggest news in college basketball on Wednesday night, not with #3 Kansas, #5 Tennessee, and #9 Oklahoma all losing as well. It’s not even the biggest college basketball news of the week, not with #1 Purdue and #2 Houston losing on Tuesday night, with the Cougars finally dropping their first game of the season and leaving no more undefeated teams.

It’s not even the top news story in college sports of the night or of the week, because a little bit earlier on Wednesday, Alabama football coach Nick Saban retired.

Trust me, I’m going somewhere with this.

I’ve been a subscriber to Channel 6, the newsletter written by Holly Anderson and Spencer Hall, pretty much since the day they opened up operations in 2021. I highly recommend that you subscribe if you have any interest in college football at all, and with the guarantee of Two Things Per Week For $10 a month, it’s a value that can’t be beat.

As you’d expect, Channel 6 had Something To Say about Saban’s retirement, and I highly recommend you check that out, although it is behind the subscription paywall. I’m not going to go into the point that Spencer and Holly were making, but they did include this video clip of Nick Saban talking to the press after a game, and it kind of hit me square in the head about where Marquette is right now.

Well, it’s one game. You know, confidence can screw you up, confidence can be a good thing but you know, what our players need to understand, what our fans need to understand, what everybody needs to understand it’s one game. It’s one game, alright? We need to keep playing better and we need to improve and our players need to have the focus to improve and remember how they got where they got rather than think that we can just show up now and beat whoever we play because we have a tendency to think that way around here. Instead of just kicking people’s ass like you’re supposed to and working to do it.

That mentality that you got to work and earn it and then we got to earn it in the next game and we’re going to have to earn it in the next game.

We need to take them one game at a time and we need to improve as a team. That’s what our team needs to be focused on and if we want to be a good team that’s what we need to do. That’s how everybody should think. We made a B on the midterm, so we’re going to take a week off and get a D and have a C average or we going to try to get an A? This is one game. What we did in this game, this one game, that’s what it counts for.

The words all apply to Marquette here. They apply to Marquette relative to most of this year’s roster being around last year when the Golden Eagles won a Big East title, and then starting off this season with a road win over a ranked Illinois team and a neutral site win over a top five ranked Kansas team. They apply to this team that started off the year ranked #5 in the country and peaked at #3 and only just this past Monday dropped out of the top 10 for the first time all year. They apply to a Marquette team that has lost three of the last five games while looking nothing like the team that started out 5-0 with wins over Illinois and Kansas, much less looking nothing like the team that ran off nine straight wins to win the Big East regular season title by multiple games and win the Big East tournament for the first time in program history.

What makes this even more salient of a point?

Saban said all of this about his team after a win. After a dominant win. After a 38-10 win in the 2008 season opener. After that kind of a win over the preseason #9 team in the country. After his preseason #24 team did that to #9 in the opener after going just 7-6 the year before during Saban’s first campaign at Alabama.

The man had a vision of what he wanted Alabama Football under his direction to look like, and there was absolutely nothing that was going to stand in his way to make sure that he got it, up to and including being excited about a big win to start the year. He said all of that stuff about accountability and working every day and taking everything seriously week in and week out after he beat Terry Bowden’s ass so bad that Bowden quit his job six weeks later.

I don’t say all of this to indicate that Shaka Smart and his staff are taking it easy on the team because of what they did in January and February of 2023. I’m also not saying that it’s easy to have the kind of mental focus and direction to do the kind of thing that Saban is talking about each and every time you step on the floor.

But it certainly feels like an urgency, an insistence, a motivation, a something is lacking from what we saw from these same young men a year ago compared to now. Doing the things necessary to win the way the preseason rankings and chatter from the team’s own mouths takes a lot of doing, each and every day, each and every game. Right now, at 2-3 in Big East play, it feels like that’s missing and, if that’s the case, that’s the biggest problem that needs to be solved.