Trying to stay unbiased, it's still easy for me to say that the Marquette Golden Eagles should have no problem handling the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore tonight at the Bradley Center. Here are 10 things to watch for as the Golden Eagles look to improve on their 85-62 win over Centenary last Friday.
1. Lazar Hayward staying out of foul trouble
Buzz Williams was not all too happy about Lazar Hayward's foul trouble on Friday, as the senior picked up four fouls in 18 minutes of play and finished the game with just nine points and five rebounds. Foul trouble against Centenary is fine because Hayward's teammate were able to pick him up. But once the Big East season rolls around, the Golden Eagles will go as far as Hayward takes them. He can't try to do too much and pick early fouls because it throws the whole offense out of rhythm.
2. Jimmy Butler's response to his 27-point, 13-rebound performance
Butler was the unheralded MVP against Centenary and it will be interesting to see how he comes back against UM-ES. Last year it seemed as though Butler played his best in spurts when his confidence would pick up. One has to think his confidence is soaring right now. His tenacity on the boards makes up for his size when he plays down low and he gets after it on offense every possession.
3. Dwight Buycks' defense problems on the perimeter
Overall, the junior newcomer played quite well, but Dwight Buycks' defense on the outside was shaky at times and Centenary got too many open looks. Now is the time to make up for those mistakes and Buycks will get every opportunity to do so tonight against UM-ES's bigger backcourt. It's clear that Buycks can't wait to get on offense, where he was very efficient, but he has to do it on the defensive end as well.
4. Darius Johnson-Odom's health and ability to drive the lane
DJO was questionable for the Centenary game but was able to play. He logged 23 good minutes but stayed beyond the arc for most of the game. All summer we heard about DJO's ability to drive to the hoop and bring a Dominic James-like role to the offense, but five of his six shots were from beyond the arc. Hopefully he will be more aggressive tonight and show off that speed and strength.
5. Jeronne Maymon getting acclimated sooner
Freshman Jeronne Maymon put in nine points and hauled in five rebounds in the opener, but looked lost and slow at times. While he is really the raw one of the group, his play will be vital to Marquette's already-small front court. On defense, he was not tough enough in the paint and gave up easy layups while failing to rotate on passes from the post. It's nothing that can't be fixed, but his play on defense is something to watch for.
6. Erik Williams' playing time
Williams, a top-100 recruit entering Marquette, played as many minutes against Centenary as walk-on Rob Frozena and had just one more point than the jump-around guy. Williams was slowed down by the flu a couple weeks ago but seemed healthy when he took the court, so one has to wonder why he only logged two minutes. With a lack of depth this season, Marquette's front court will have to use every body they have and that includes the raw Williams. Check his minutes tonight.
7. Marquette's three-point shooting
Against a smaller team like Centenary, many expected Marquette to shoot from outside at will. However, the Golden Eagles ended the night 3-for-16 from behind the arc and exposed themselves as a team that can not hit the long ball. They have the players to do it (Hayward, Buycks, DJO, Cubillan) but must get the job done. For a small team, not being able to shoot from outside will be the Achilles' Heel for Marquette.
8. Keep the fast break points coming
If the Golden Eagles aren't going to shoot well, the least they can do is keep the ball moving in transition. Maurice Acker and Dwight Buycks did an excellent job running the fast break, leading to 28 points that really put the game away in the second half. Fast break points are sure to come in bunches against weaker teams, so expect more of the same tonight against MU-ES.
9. How Chris Otule will respond to his forgettable opener
For whatever reason, Chris Otule did not look like he had made any improvements over the summer. Passes will be given because we are just one game in and Otule was bound to have one hiccup, so maybe it just came in the opener. His hands were still all over the place and he just doesn't look comfortable. With Youssoupha Mbao out one more game, this is Otule's last chance to be THE big guy for Marquette. In my opinion, this is a big one tonight for Otule.
10. Overall Improvement
Marquette's opening win looked as average as a 23-point victory can look. The team is young and the players are just two actual games into their careers with each other, but the chemistry needs to improve as a whole. These cupcake games are scheduled so that players can get comfortable in their surroundings, but some players still looked a little star-struck. Tonight is another game. Hopefully the perimeter defense and outside shooting will improve and the fouls will be down.