Now that the field has been set and 3-seeded Marquette takes on the Wildcats of Davidson, it's time to figure out what to know about this squad as it heads to Lexington. For those of you who haven't watched much Marquette basketball this year, shame on you. Hopefully a few of these points will help you in figuring out how far to take the Golden Eagles.
What I like about this squad
This team is Buzz's best by far on the defensive side of the ball. They mostly play man-to-man, but will switch to the 2-3 zone from time to time. They play excellent man-to-man defense by playing aggressive on-the-ball defense and are disciplined when it comes to switching off of ball screens. Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue can prove to be matchup nightmares for an offense, as they can force turnovers at the point of attack for easy buckets in transition on the other end. Chris Otule has been his usual self, blocking shots and forcing players in the paint to take off-balance shots. The main weaknesses I've seen from section 441 this season are the occasional blown assignment on help-side defense and three-pointers surrendered off of offensive boards and inside-out offense. That being said, I see this team packing their defense and taking it to Kentucky (and hopefully DC).
Jump shots, Jump Shots, Jump Shots
With the offensive emergence of Vander Blue, this team is excellent at hitting jump shots. MU has three great jump-shooters in Vander Blue, Junior Cadougan, and Jamil Wilson. This asset will come in handy if Marquette has to face a zone defense, and will also prove to be useful when they're having trouble getting paint touches. During the season it's also worked well in transition and in pick-and-pop situations. If MU is down in the second half against Davidson, look for them to try a few pull-up jumpers to gain some momentum.
This shouldn't be a surprise to most MU fans. Marquette has played in a lot of close games this season (as they always do), and more often than not they've come out on top. A couple where they didn't? The Maui Invitational against Butler where they lost on a well-contested buzzer-beating 3-pointer, and at Cincinnati where they had no business coming back in that game but found a way to force overtime. MU is 3-1 in overtime games (2 of those 3 were on the road) and has also had close wins over Syracuse, Georgetown, and Rutgers. Toughness is a huge plus for any team in the NCAA Tournament, hopefully it shines through once again if Thursday's contest goes down to the wire.
What I don't like about this squad
This has been well-documented throughout the season, as Marquette ranks 318th in the country at 3-point field goal percentage. What worries me the most about this statistic is that our inability to shoot from beyond the arc A) Prevents us from being able to win in a shoot-out, B) Prevents us from coming back if we're down 8-10 points, and C) Prevents us from creating a cushion if we're up by 8-10 points. If we buck the trend and can shoot 40% from long range, great. Otherwise it can stand to put us on a cold streak if we run out of options offensively.
There have been many an occasion this season where MU has gone scoreless for several minutes. Part of that may be poor shooting, but a big part of that is turnovers as well. The main problem with the team's turnovers is that it's not just one culprit, it's multiple. While Junior Cadougan can be a serious offensive threat, he makes plenty of dumb mistakes too, between bad passes and poor ball handling. Jamil Wilson, Trent Lockett, and Todd Mayo are equal opportunity offenders when it comes to turnovers too. Losing possessions can lead to a serious change in momentum, and is something MU has to work on limiting.
Point Guard Depth
It hurts to talk about this, but when Junior Cadougan is on the bench, Derrick Wilson at the 1-spot can be a serious liability on the offensive side. Sure, Buzz talks about Wilson having "intangibles," and at times he plays great defense, but watching him run an offense can be tougher than spending Christmas with Bo Ryan. So many times I've seen Wilson attempt to drive in the paint or stop to take a jump shot, only to second-guess himself and pass the ball to someone else in hopes that they'll carry the load. If Cadougan gets injured or ends up in foul trouble early on, it could make for a long afternoon for the Golden Eagles.
Get to the important part. How far should I take Marquette in my bracket?
If I had that answer, I would have retired a long time ago, but here are my two cents on the matter. Davidson will prove to be a very difficult test for MU. The Wildcats have experience, size, and are very accustomed to winning. Don't let the 14-seed fool you, these kids won't back down. With that being said, I think MU will be able to beat them on the boards and take care of the basketball. It'll be a close contest, but Marquette's experience and toughness will pull through. For the second round, I think they'll be having a rematch with Butler which means just one thing: revenge. MU still has that taste of defeat from Maui and will look to get even with the Bulldogs, so pencil the Golden Eagles into your Sweet 16. Assuming chalk, their next opponent will be the Miami Hurricanes. I think Marquette has a chance of winning this one, as Miami has lost to teams that get to the line often, but I don't think MU can keep up with their guards, and thus the run for the Golden Eagles will end at the Sweet 16 for a third year in a row. Who knows, they may surprise us and make it further, but frankly, my pessimistic self will be happy to see them get into the Round of 32.