Buzz Williams and his Marquette Golden Eagles currently sit with a 10-7 record on the season, including a 2-2 mark in Big East play. Marquette next plays on Saturday afternoon against the Butler Bulldogs, a team without a league win to date.
The Golden Eagles won't have much turnaround time on the road, as they battle the Georgetown Hoyas on Monday evening in Washington, D.C. The Golden Eagles may need 12 or 13 conference wins to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, so they'll need a lengthy winning streak at some point.
Despite leading Marquette in both scoring and rebounding, Gardner is fourth on the team in minutes played. For the first time since his sophomore season, Gardner entered into the starting lineup after the team's loss to Creighton. He's played big-time minutes ever since.
In Marquette's last three games, Gardner has logged 35, 37 and 34 minutes, respectively. Gardner hasn't been plagued by foul trouble during that stretch, but becoming worn down is worth some concern. On the season, Gardner plays 25.3 minutes, though he has averaged 35.3 minutes in the month of January.
The former sixth man, Gardner has always been efficient, regardless of playing time. He is Williams' best option on offense for a team that struggles to score. Gardner, who stands 6'8" and weighs 290 pounds, has slimmed down from a year ago, which has helped allow for his increased workload.
After Vander Blue's surprising departure from Milwaukee following the 2012-13 season, Wilson's role instantly increased. Wilson was a star in his own right during last March Madness, but he has yet to play with that same fire during his redshirt senior season.
Wilson has scored in double figures in 11 of 17 games this season, but his struggles have come at inopportune moments.
First, Wilson scored three points on 1-of-9 shooting in a November loss to Ohio State. More recently, he scored five points in just 12 minutes of action before fouling out in a defeat to Xavier.
Wilson is second on the team in points and rebounds, contributing 11.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per night. After leading MU in three-point shooting a year ago, Wilson has connected on only 29 percent of his long-range bombs this year.
If Wilson can find his stroke while making a better effort to attack the rack, he and Gardner will form a deadly frontcourt duo.
After playing sparingly as a redshirt junior, Thomas has been given the opportunity to start and play major minutes in his final collegiate season. Thomas initially flirted with the idea of transferring from Marquette before coming to his senses and returning to school.
Thomas is second on the team in minutes and fourth in scoring. He is Marquette's best long-distance shooter, making 39 percent of his looks from behind the arc. Thomas is able to stretch opposing defenses on a team that shoots a lowly 31 percent from three-point land.
On the year, Thomas has taken 98 shots, 82 of which have come from deep. He has converted on only 2-of-16 two-point attempts, posing no threat when attacking the basket. Thomas has made 22-of-30 free throws, but he is only seventh on the team in attempts.
For three-and-a-half seasons, Marquette has enjoyed the luxury of having two skilled centers on its roster.
Otule has been the starting center during that stretch, while Gardner has been the backup. Otule is a defensive stopper and rebounder, while Gardner has the better back-to-the-basket game.
Williams experimented by playing the two together for brief moments last season and continued that trend in the early parts of this season. Two weeks ago, Williams decided to start the two senior bigs alongside each other, and he's continued to start both of them together ever since.
While Gardner has shined in his increased role, Otule has averaged only 4.7 points and four rebounds in 15 minutes, all of which are below his season averages. When the two players take the court together, Otule must occupy the paint by clogging the middle while continuing to hit the boards.
Despite leading Marquette in playing time with an average of 29.4 minutes, Wilson is Marquette's eighth leading scorer, pouring in only 4.8 points per game. Wilson's shooting numbers are even less impressive, as he has connected on only 37 percent of his field-goal attempts, 10 percent of shots from the three-point range and 49 percent of attempts from the charity stripe.
As the team's reserve point guard for two seasons, Wilson combined to score only 60 points, already surpassing that with his 81 points this season. He is Marquette's lone non-senior in the starting lineup, and though he is a steady ball-handler and distributor, he has trouble creating offense for himself.
Wilson has scored in double figures three times in 2013-14 and reached double-figure assists once. In Marquette's first three games in the new Big East, Wilson scored a total of six points on 2-of-11 shooting from the field and 2-of-7 shooting from the foul line.
Wilson's confidence and assertiveness with the rock could go a long way into getting Marquette back into the Big Dance.