Marquette Basketball: Golden Eagles' Biggest Goals for Nonconference Play
After a 3-1 start at home to begin the 2013-14 campaign, Buzz Williams' Marquette Golden Eagles will face a new test—playing four of their next six games on the road or at neutral locations. Marquette nation's longest home winning streak was snapped by the Ohio State on Nov. 16, though they'll face another Big Ten foe in Wisconsin less than two weeks from now.
They will also face challenges with Arizona State and a matchup against the No. 19 team in the country in the New Mexico Lobos. The Golden Eagles will also be tested next month, lining up against new Big East rival Creighton.
As shown in the 52-35 loss to Thad Matta's Buckeyes, Marquette has plenty of room to improve. This is not the team we saw make a run to the Elite Eight last March, though there's no doubt Williams will have this team ready to make another late season push when the time comes. Before Big East play kicks off on New Year's Eve, when MU plays Creighton in Omaha, Neb., the Eagles need to improve in several areas.
Improve Scoring Numbers
Through four games Marquette is ranked 262nd in the nation in scoring, with a 67.5 point per game average. Included in that scoring average is a 114-point scoring effort against Grambling State. In the other three contests, Marquette's scoring output was 63, 35 and 58 points, respectively.
Even worse than the team's scoring production, or lack thereof, is its shooting percentage. Marquette is near the nation's worst in that category, ranked 314th with a 38.1 percent team shooting percentage. Oddly enough, MU ranks 80th in assists with 14.5 per game, which is definitely a good sign.
Though better known for defensive efforts than offensive prowess, Marquette will absolutely need to improve its scoring numbers. Only two Golden Eagles are averaging in double figures, with Todd Mayo's 13.8- and Davante Gardner's 12.5-point averages leading the charge.
Consistent Play from Guards
Though it was no secret that Marquette's roster is forward-heavy this season, the issues from the guard position have been frightening to this point. Yes, some of the team's core backcourt players from 2012-13 are gone, as Trent Lockett, Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue are no longer on campus.
Stud freshman point guard Duane Wilson has yet to play and is out multiple weeks with a leg injury. Coach Williams is hesitant to play fellow freshmen JaJuan Johnson and John Dawson. Neither saw the court in the loss to Ohio State, despite the team's need for a spark as the starters combined for only 12 points.
Derrick Wilson is slotted at point guard for the time being. Wilson served as a steady backup to Cadougan for two seasons, but has struggled in his new role. In 28.3 minutes per contest, Wilson is averaging 1.0 point, 4.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists, while shooting just 10 percent from the field.
After nearly transferring at last season's end, Jake Thomas now has a starting role as the team's shooting guard. Thomas is averaging 5.3 points in 21.5 minutes, but has shot a streaky 27.8 percent from three-point range. Thomas is not a factor defensively, so they need him to hit the long ball consistently.
Improvement from Freshmen
As mentioned in the previous slide, we haven't gotten a great look at Marquette's freshman class through four games. Duane Wilson is out and the date of his return remains up in the air. Junior college transfer Jameel McKay never played a game for the Golden Eagles, recently deciding to transfer to Iowa State.
This leaves only three players from the team's five-man 2013 recruiting class currently available to see the floor. John Dawson, the lowest rated member of the class, is averaging 1.0 point, 1.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists, while shooting 14.3 percent from the floor in 11.3 minutes a night.
JaJuan Johnson has a 4-point scoring average, but has only pulled in one rebound and dished out one assist in 42 minutes of playing time over the course of three games. Johnson came to Milwaukee touted as a scorer, but he needs to improve on his shot selection.
The final member of the class is Deonte Burton, a versatile player who can guard multiple positions. Burton has seen the floor in all four games, averaging 12.5 minutes of action off the bench. Burton has contributed 4.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals. His role should increase as the season progresses.
Start Hitting the Three-Ball
In the 2012-13 season Marquette was a poor three-point shooting team, connecting on only 29.6 percent of its shots from behind the arc. Unbelievably, that figure is much lower to start the 2013-14 season, as the team has only converted on 18.3 percent of its looks from deep.
Jake Thomas is shooting a team-best 27.8 percent, with Todd Mayo closely behind at 26.7 percent. Jamil Wilson, the team's best long-range bomber last season, has only made a quarter of his three-point attempts, while neither Derrick Wilson nor Juan Anderson have made a three-ball yet.
While not necessarily a heavy three-point shooting team, Marquette was able to advance past Davidson in the NCAA Second Round last March by hitting late three-pointers in a stunning comeback. With a deep and talented frontcourt, Marquette's guards must be able to hit the open triple to space the court better.
Win from Here on out
Marquette has nine nonconfernce contests remaining and truth be told, a 12-1 pre-conference record isn't out of the question yet. There is obviously plenty of room to improve—made obvious by the offensive embarrassment that was the Ohio State game—but expect MU to get back on track and quick.
On Monday, Marquette will face a dangerous Arizona State opponent on the road. The Sun Devils showcase star guard Jahii Carson and Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall, and both should cause plenty of trouble for the Golden Eagles' guards.
Following the ASU matchup, Marquette will take part in the Wooden Legacy Tournament where they will take part in three games. Marquette should be able to reach the finals, where they would have a rematch with Arizona State, or see Doug McDermott and the Creighton Bluejays.
Wisconsin, IUPUI, Ball State, New Mexico and Samford round out the nonconference slate. While it's not fair to expect Marquette to go through the next nine games unscathed, every game is winnable. The Golden Eagles best basketball is ahead of them, but improvement needs to take place now.