Marquette Basketball: How Golden Eagles Continue to Win Under the Radar
The Marquette Golden Eagles aren't supposed to be sitting on the Big East perch right now. Marquette, picked seventh in the preseason Big East Coaches Poll, crashed the party early and remains a quiet conference title contender.
Head coach Buzz Williams has led his squad to the top of conference standings, where Marquette is currently in sole possession of first place. The Golden Eagles own a 10-3 Big East record and are 19-6 overall, establishing the team as an NCAA tournament lock.
How has Marquette made the preseason prognosticators look foolish?
The Golden Eagles have consistently excelled in a few crucial facets of the game, which we focus on here.
Keep Feeding Vander Blue the Ball
Blue, a junior guard, is one of the conference's most improved players and has proven capable of carrying Marquette's offensive load when necessary. The 6'4" Wisconsin native is on a tear against conference opponents.
He has tallied double-digit scoring in 12 of 13 Big East games. Blue exploded for 30 points in a January victory over South Florida and registered 19 points in each of Marquette's last two games (wins over Pittsburgh and Seton Hall).
Blue, who leads the Golden Eagles in shots, is a highly efficient scorer. He has hit at least 50 percent of his attempts from the floor in five of the last six games (Marquette won each time).
Cash in from the Charity Stripe
When games go down to the wire, as they so often do in Big East competition, victories can be secured or squandered at the free-throw line. Marquette is exceptional in this department.
The Golden Eagles convert 74 percent of free-throw attempts, which ranks second in the Big East. Marquette's top two leading scorers serve as catalysts at the charity stripe.
Vander Blue buries 74 percent of his attempts, while junior Devante Gardner is good on 86 percent of his free-throw opportunities, placing him fourth in that category among all conference players.
Bring Down the Boards
Only one Marquette player measures in taller than 6'8". Despite the perceived height disadvantage, the Golden Eagles are grabbing more rebounds than nearly every team in the Big East.
Marquette is statistically the conference's second-best defensive rebounding team. The Golden Eagles trail only Pittsburgh in that department and it's a testament to the squad's well-rounded rebounding effort.
Seven players currently average at least three rebounds per contest. Coach Williams clearly has his team tracking down the ball and that mindset is forged on the practice court.
Protect Home Court
Marquette has been monstrous at the Bradley Center this season. The Golden Eagles are 14-0 at home, joining Syracuse as the only conference members to remain unbeaten on home court.
The team has knocked off a pair of ranked opponents (Georgetown and Pittsburgh) in Milwaukee. Recent success will be tested when Syracuse comes to town Feb. 25 for a possible Big East championship preview.
Fellow ranked conference foe Notre Dame also pays a visit to Marquette in early March.
Excel in High-Percentage Shooting Situations
The Golden Eagles are the conference's worst three-point shooting team. Now that we've established that, let's take a look at how Marquette has overcome the issue and remained a successful scoring bunch.
Marquette ranks third in the conference with a 47 percent field-goal percentage. Factor in the Golden Eagles 30 percent shooting from beyond the arc and it becomes clear this team is taking care of business close to the rim.
Marquette works the ball inside to forward Davante Gardner, who carries a scintillating shooting percentage (56 percent) and can distribute the ball with effectiveness near the paint. Six of the team's top nine scorers are currently shooting the ball better than 44 percent from the floor.
Teams can live and die by the three. But squads that thrive in the mid-range game tend to be a better bet for tournament longevity.