With Marquette coming to Allstate Arena tonight the team over at Cracked Sidewalks was very kind in accommodating my request for some knowledge about the Golden Eagles. Rob Lowe and Tim Blair answered five questions about the surprising Marquette team that is currently 10th in the Big East, but 17th in the nation according to Pomeroy. The Golden Eagles are coming off a 30-point blowout over Providence, so DePaul will certainly have its hands full.
1. CCB: If this is what a "rebuilding year" under head coach Buzz Williams looks like you have to be pretty impressed. How has he been able to sustain the excellence after losing the Big 3 from last season? How did Marquette's offense get better?
CS: There's actually a bit of a difference of opinion on this one. The team has definitely shown more spirit and been more competitive in the season than many thought they would. Our expectations in general were muted, with even the most optimistic prognosis being a 0.500 season. That was before losing [top recruit Junior] Cadougan, [Chris] Otule, and [top recruit and Tennessee defector Jeronne] Maymon. However, MU went through the early season gauntlet pretty well, a few chokes notwithstanding. Even if the team did end up folding in several games, the fact that they were competitive in those games has bolstered confidence. Our optimism is rising. As for how Buzz has been able to keep the performance up, it has to do with the increased contributions of Jimmy Butler, newcomer contributions from Darius Johnson-Odom (above), and solid senior leadership from [Maurice] Acker and [David] Cubillan. Marquette makes a lot of threes. Who knew? That will help any offense stay competitive.
2. CCB: I had Jimmy Butler (left) as my breakout player in the Big East before the season started. His tempo-free stats seem to suggest he's on his way towards gaining that recognition. What are your feelings about his second season with the team?
CS: Jimmy is a highly efficient player, but I question the extent to which he will be a breakout player. Part of the reason he is so efficient is that a lot of his contributions come from within the flow of the game. He grabs a really high percentage of offensive rebounds, which is the biggest aspect. However, it's not as though he is the type of player that they are running a significantly higher number of plays for. Butler is a player who rarely performs out of character, he's determined to succeed in the role he's asked to play. If anything, I wish he'd be a little more selfish, but that would be outside the character of his game.
3. CCB: How do you stop Lazar Hayward (right)?
CS: Two ways. Either have an athletic 6'7 wing, like the ones that grow on trees down in Louisville, or you basically shut down the other players and prevent his outlet passes. Lazar has been taking a massive number of possessions this year. This has really hurt his efficiency (which is back to his sophomore levels) but he remains a supreme threat to heat up at any time. Yet he's never been a great passer out of the post which I think is a huge limiting factor in how MU can execute its offense, and might be one factor leading to the increased reliance on three-point shooting. However, having said that, for some reason he does a great job with rebounding. Don't know how you stop that.
4. CCB: Marquette has just dominated the weaker competition the Golden Eagles have played this season. DePaul certainly fits that category. Is this going to get ugly fast?
CS: Our prediction is that it'll be ugly, but not out of hand. Despite the large number of MU fans that will be in attendance, this should still be DePaul's home court. Better said, it won't be Marquette's home court. Plus, both teams are playing at a slower tempo. Our call is that MU wins 64-55 in a game where Marquette has the eFG% and OR% advantages, but turnovers and free throw rate are about the same. While MU leads the nation in three-point shooting, at some point you'd expect the Warriors to struggle shooting the ball on the road.
5. CCB: This is the first game of two between DePaul and Marquette. Do you think that this "rivalry" actually feels like one? Or is it completely forced.
CS: No, this isn't really a rivalry except for one aspect -- Marquette fans come out in large numbers to the Allstate Arena. That will create some level of rivalry, but Marquette fans care a lot more about beating any number of teams more than DPU. This thread summarizes it a lot better than we could.
Once again, a big thank you to Rob, Tim and the rest of the group at Cracked Sidewalks. Keep up the excellent Marquette basketball coverage. If you're interested in my answers to their questions you can check them out here.