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Marquette Basketball: A Story with Holes

by Andrew Force | February 4th, 2008

Sit down children. Be quiet and keep your hands to yourself. It is time for a “Story With Holes.”

John and Mary were lying dead in a puddle with broken glass. Chester wasn’t found. Why is that?

While you ponder that, let’s look at another Story With Holes. This hole is in the middle. The story is entitled Marquette Basketball: Sound all Around, No Insides to Be Found.

What is Missing

The guard tandem of Dominic James and Jerel McNeal unquestionably leads Marquette. Though Jones and McNeal own the enviable breakdown ability, MU has glaring holes. Over the course of the last two seasons Ousmanne Barro proved serviceable at center. He still fell under the heading of potential…until now. Apparently, Coach Tom Crean gave up on Barro. His minutes have been cut from 27 mpg last year to 17 mpg in one year. Facing a beastly UConn frontline, Crean started two small forwards, Dan Fitzgerald and Lazar Hayward. Alhough Fitz stands 6’9” he is truly a SF based on his skill set. Huskies Hashim Thabeet and Jeff Adrien abused the outsized Eagles on the boards. Five MU forwards accrued 10 total rebounds while Thabeet corralled seven by himself. Incidentally, both Hayward and Fitz fouled out. A sub managed only eight minutes before picking up four fouls.

Prior to the UConn debacle, the Cardinals of Louisville whipped Marquette. The same five MU forwards managed 14 total rebounds compared to Cardinal big man David Padgett’s 10. Observing courtside, coach Crean noticed, “I think our team has been relatively inconsistent since the Big East started in terms of rebounding.” The defensive rebounding woes serve as the more obvious shortcoming, but another less obvious problem exposes itself. Since no Marquette player scores with consistency in the lane, defenses extend out even further. Why give Dominic James a cushion if you are not scared of post scoring. Fewer guards are left open and the shot selection suffers dramatically. Anyone of value inside could alleviate this crisis.

How it Hurts

Once the problem was exposed, the MU coaching staff started scrambling for answers. Aside from urging his charges to do better, Crean does not have any personnel solutions remaining. Dwight Burke plays more. He affects the game just the same as he did playing meager minutes: Hardly at all. Senior and second-year Eagle Lawrence Blackledge offers a band-aid where a tourniquet belongs. His energy helps. Unfortunately, 185 pounds pushes around no one. The “Trend”, as they call him, lacks a competitive girth. Without injured Trevor Mbakwe, MU clearly enters battle undersized.

Think of a crowded fish tank. The owner began with an assortment of goldfish. Unamused, he purchases a pair of koi to share the super small sea. When food is dropped into the tank, the larger fish sucks in more than the smaller fish. In much the same way Big East koi overpower Marquette. They force MU to work harder for the rebounds.

How to Fix It

“When you are a little smaller your 2, 3, and even PG have to rebound better,” observed Crean. “Your 2 and 3 and have to rebound like a 4 and 5.”

The players on whom Crean counts for rebounding the most are McNeal and Wesley Matthews. McNeal simply has to rebound. He may be the best rebounding guard in the country considering the trees he roams around, but taking a night off equates to MU failure.

The equation is that simple. Remember last season when Marquette tanked down the stretch? Including the postseason, the Eagles lost six of their final nine games. McNeal did not play full strength in any of those contests. This year Marquette’s shooting guard pulled down 2.5 rebounds in their losses, while offering five boards per in the wins. Matthews tends to be more consistent on the glass and can really help the Eagles out on the offensive boards.

To be fair, Marquette has legitimate strengths. The Eagles fly up the court as well as any team in the Big East. Marquette can chaperone momentum well, escorting hot shooting runs all the way to the endgame. The Milwaukee-based college cares greatly for its boys, and throngs show up in force to support the Crean and co. effort.

True problems arise away from the Bradley Center. Prior to the season Marquette claimed to be an elite Big East team.

Juniors James and McNeal have never won an NCAA game. The Eagles are 8-10 against the Top 50 RPI rated teams in the last year and a half. Something needs to change.

To end the suspense: John, Mary, and Chester were fish living in a fish bowl. The house cat knocked the bowl off the table sending them crashing to the floor. As the bowl broke, water and glass spilled everywhere. The cat ate Chester.

When analyzed with all of the information, the story makes sense. It is rational. Without details, however, it remains a story with holes.

Now that the procedure is laid out, try a tougher one: Marquette basketball. What details need be altered to concoct a championship level team? How can the Marquette Golden Eagles fly with the Big East leaders?

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