Marquette's Second Half Struggles Keep Them on NCAA Tournament Bubble

Erik SchultzCorrespondent IFebruary 13, 2011

KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 23:  Darius Johnson-Odom #1 of the Marquette Golden Eagles passes around Elias Harris #20 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the CBE Classic consolation game on November 23, 2010 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

If you watch a Marquette basketball game, it sometimes feels as if you’re watching two different teams within the game.

In the first 20 to 30 minutes, Marquette looks like a legitimate Top 20 team.  They leave the impression that they can beat anybody in the Big East, and therefore, just about anyone in the country.

In the remaining minutes, they look very mediocre—a team that wouldn’t be worthy of inclusion in the NCAA tournament.  This team often erases all the hard work and good impressions left by the team of the first 20 to 30 minutes.

Because of the latter, Marquette currently finds themselves much more on the tournament bubble than they probably should be.

The game on Sunday against Georgetown provided another example of the Marquette team (or teams, if you will) we’ve grown accustomed to seeing this season. 

The Golden Eagles lost 69-60 in Washington, DC.  Once again, they led at halftime (by four), and held a slim lead until the 12 minute mark of the second half.  They then hit their seemingly inevitable cold spell, at which time the Hoyas pushed in front to stay.

With the loss, Marquette drops to 15–10 overall, and 6-6 in the Big East.  That puts them in a tie with Cincinnati for 10th place in the conference.  That’s not exactly where you want to be in mid-February if you want to be considered a legitimate NCAA tournament team.

That 6–6 record could easily be 8–4—or even 9–3—if not for some late game letdowns over the past few weeks.

A couple weeks back, Marquette took a lead into the final eight minutes against then-No. 5 Connecticut.  The Golden Eagles led 60-55 with 7:55 left, but allowed UConn to outscore them 21-8 over the remaining stretch of game, losing 76-68. The Eagles’ demise was their inability to knock down shots late—they made just two field goals over the game’s final 10 minutes. 

One game prior to losing to UConn, Marquette took on Notre Dame in South Bend.  The Eagles rode a late-first half charge to lead by nine at halftime.  They then took a 12 point lead a minute into the second half. 

From there, however, Marquette went into a major prolonged shooting drought from which they could not recover.  Over a 16 minute span, the Eagles made just three field goals.  Notre Dame outscored them 33-14 over that period and ultimately won the game 80-75.

Unfortunately, that was not the worst of it for Marquette. 

One week prior to the Notre Dame loss, the Eagles had a game well within their control at Louisville.  After leading by five at halftime, they went on a 25-12 run to take a 63-45 lead with just 6:31 to play. 

From there, the Eagles made just two field goals the rest of the game.  Louisville’s Preston Knowles caught fire from outside, hitting four three-pointers to get the Cardinals back in the game.  A Kyle Kuric layup with just four seconds left completed the Cardinals’ incredible late game run.  The 71-70 final score left Marquette stunned with a loss that did not seem possible.

Despite these late game struggles, Marquette has closed the deal against a couple of Top 20 teams from the Big East. 

The Eagles defeated Syracuse (then No. 10) at home prior to their recent three game road trip.  They also notched an impressive 22-point win at home over the very same Notre Dame team that came from behind to beat them more recently. 

The win over the Irish—who are currently ranked in the Top 10 and in second place in the Big East—stands as the Eagles’ marquee win. 

The question remains: How much more work does Marquette need to do to secure a spot in the tournament?

With two-thirds of the Big East schedule now complete, the Eagles do not have an infinite number of opportunities remaining for high-quality wins.  Their schedule is actually favorable from a win standpoint, but not so much from a quality win standpoint.

This Tuesday, Marquette plays host to St. John’s, who is also fighting to secure a NCAA berth.  The Red Storm appear to be in a bit better position than the Eagles at the moment.  A win for Buzz Williams’ team may change that perception.

A likely must-win game for Marquette will be on March 2, when they host Cincinnati.  That may serve as a de-facto play-in game, with the winner earning perhaps the Big East’s tenth and final tournament bid.

The rest of their schedule includes a game at Connecticut, a game against Providence, and two with Seton Hall. 

If Marquette wins four of their last six games, they should be in solid position to make the NCAA tournament. 

In order to do this, they will need to make sure they finish what they start and turn their “what-if” losses into actual wins.  That would help eliminate any doubt that the Eagles belong in the field of 68.