Throw out the 10-1 record, the ultra high-scoring offense, the blistering assist totals and the frustrating defense. If there’s one thing I can point to and tell you “that’s why Marquette is a great team,” I only need one word.
There is not a team in the country that plays 40 minutes of college basketball harder than the Marquette Golden Eagles. Buzz Williams, the head coach and captain of the ship, demands extreme toughness and wall-to-wall effort. He gets that and more from his Golden Eagles.
Marquette got to 10-0 this season before dropping a heartbreaker at LSU on Monday. It was a difficult result to swallow, but that’s how it is sometimes, especially on the road.
Easily the most impressive victory for MU this season was a 61-54 victory over Wisconsin in Madison. The Golden Eagles went into one of the hardest road atmospheres in the nation and beat the Badgers at their own game – a low-scoring, blow by blow possession-by-possession affair.
Don’t expect that tonight at the Bradley Center. Both teams come in missing a starter – the Panthers expect Ja’Rob McCallum to be out at least through the new year and Marquette will re-evaluate Chris Otule’s condition on Monday – but the Panthers will be getting one back. Kyle Kelm expects to play against Marquette, the team that pulled a scholarship offer during his junior year in high school after he broke his foot.
In Otule’s place, Davante Gardner has found himself ushered into the starting lineup. The 6’8”, 290 lb. widebody is a real beater in the block – he uses his size to own the paint, draw fouls and put himself in better position to score. He’s good from the line, too – the center is hitting 82% of his free throws this season.
Marquette’s team is all about running you into the ground. What they lack in size, they make up for in sheer effort and speed. At any time, a simple turnover can turn into two points on the other end very quickly. Every one of their guards and Jae Crowder can drive the lane in the blink of an eye and come up with an easy layup. It will be up to the Panthers to limit those transition opportunities that set up Marquette’s easy baskets.
There are two ways the Panthers can accomplish that task. First and foremost, they need to take care of the ball. Marquette is forcing 18 turnovers per game and 9.4 steals per game. The Golden Eagles rely on a relentless, tough defense to force opponents into poor ball-handling situations and miscues. They use trap defenses to get opponents to cough up the ball one way or another.
If Milwaukee can take care of the rock, the big thing they need to do to cut off the head of MU is get back quickly on defense. Getting crisp, open shots are key in this game, because you want to make the highest percentage possible. Too many defensive rebounds for Marquette can turn into 2-on-1’s on the other end and easy buckets for the blue and gold. Milwaukee’s guards need to get back quickly to negate any numbers advantage the Golden Eagles might have in the transition game.
If MU can’t score in transition, they most definitely will try to get open shots with their speed. They have a lot of ball hawks that hunt the open three-point shot, which may be difficult against the Panthers but won’t be if the guards can keep up.
All in all, the Golden Eagles are very talented, very quick and very smart. Darius Johnson-Odom should be in the All-American conversation, Junior Cadougan is a more-than-capable point guard, and Vander Blue will have a height advantage on whoever guards him unless Milwaukee goes with a three-forward set. Don’t expect that, though, because Kyle Kelm, Tony Meier or James Haarsma would have difficulty keeping up with Blue.
This is what you can expect. Kyle Kelm, who should be playing tonight, should draw Davante Gardner on offense. Kelm’s ability to shoot the three will open things up on the inside for James Haarsma to take a weaker Jae Crowder on the block, negating his speed advantage. Crowder and Haarsma are two bull-headed beasts with a real mean streak, so don’t be surprised if they end up getting too physical for the referees to allow.
In no game this year has Milwaukee’s defensive prowess on the perimeter been tested as much as it will against Buzz Williams’ squad. The Golden Eagles have great guards all over the court – Cadougan, DJO, Blue, Todd Mayo – they’re just a very deep team (ten players average over 10 mpg) that runs the floor with reckless abandon, puts in the maximum effort, and plays the game tough.
A victory over this team would instantly give major credibility to the Panthers’ at-large chances or, more importantly, seeding when they get into the dance by way of winning the Horizon League Tournament.
Here’s to a big, fat W on the Milwaukee side tonight.