Four years ago 1st year coach Buzz Williams faced back-to-back games against two teams that were almost just as good - a Northern Iowa team that would end up ranked #81 and a Dayton team that would be ranked #78 at seasons end.
On the first night, MU used their speed to improve to 5-0 with an unbelievable performance in a 73-43 win over Northern Iowa. The next night on not-so-fresh legs, MU was thrashed by Dayton 75-89. The trend of struggling when playing on consecutive nights and/or in the third day of a tournament has continued for the entire Buzz era, with an earily similar result of beating Norfolk State by 31 points a week ago, then barely suriviving for a 2-point win against the same team last night. In fact, in 9 such games during Buzz's tenure, MU's average score on "tired legs" has been a 65-71 loss. (see table at bottom of post for all such games)
The good news is that MU survived last night when Vander Blue came up with his 11th steal of the season with 1:13 to play, dribbled around his back to beat a defender, then fired a laser pass ahead to Jae Crowder for the final points of the game and Blue’s 20th assist of the season for the final score of a 59-57 win. MU survived a last second missed 3-pointer by Norfolk State to sneak away with the title.
It may be that MUs intensity that turns steals into baskets and rattles opponents just isn’t there when playing back-to-back nights. For the first 8 minutes MU continued their season pace of scoring well over 2 points a minute, but then they hit the wall and Norfolk State switched to a zone to only allow 42 points in 32 minutes and come within one final three-point attempt of stealing the Paradise Jam championship just a week after losing to MU by 31 points. The breakdown of MU’s points for the season prior to and after Norfolk went to the zone is below:
|First 4 games + 1st 8 minutes||397||168||2.4|
|Final 32 minutes vs. zone||42||32||1.3|
The game reminded me of the bad games against Florida State, UWM and DePaul the last couple of years – a terrible struggle that came down to a final shot. In this case it was a 3-pointer by Norfolk State star center Kyle O’Quinn that rimmed off to give MU the two point win. The game showed some of the same weaknesses that has plagued MU:
1. trouble against a zone,
2. Vander Blue struggled to a scoreless 0 for 7 night as the Spartans sagged back for his drives,
3. Seemingly left Spartans wide open for 3-point attempts way too often,
4. some tightening up at the line and from the floor by the young stars as they experienced their first tight game, and
5. the poor performance when playing back-to-back games (see the complete list of MUs 3 wins in 9 games).
Marquette also lost the turnover battle 14-12 with some very sloppy play, and perhaps more importantly lost the foul battle 15-16. The fact that they couldn’t draw fouls against the zone was almost the difference, as DJO stepped to the line with 28 seconds left and a one-on-one, rather than two shots. When he missed the front end to leave the score 59-57 it gave the Spartans the shot at the game-winner.
However, Marquette finished the night with their first tournament trophy under Buzz, and with some valuable experience for the young players who had been able to play loose with big leads up until this point. The good news:
1. Chris Otule battled NBA prospect Kyle O’Quinn tough again, getting two quick fouls on him, rejecting 4 more shots, and staying almost even with him in rebounds (13-9) to allow only 10 points (one on a 35 foot three-pointer as the shot clock expired),
2. When no one else seemed to know how to attack the zone, Davante Gardner was the only answer for stretches, getting 7 points and 7 rebounds in 15 minutes,
3. Amidst the struggles, Marquette got the leadership it needed from the seniors (Crowder 14 points, 11 rebounds and smart play with 4 fouls while DJO 20 points on 6 of 7 free throws) and starting point guard (6 more assists for Junior and 4 of 7 from the floor to make them respect the shot and drive).
Marquette gets a week off before a warm-up against Jacksonville next Monday, followed by the December 3 shot down at Wisconsin against the No. 1 scoring defense in the nation. I’m sure Bo Ryan will take a lot of notes from last night on slowing MU down, and the Badgers will be coming off a trip to Chapel Hill to face UNC.
Norfolk State now joins Villanova, Cincinnati and Georgetown as our favorite teams, as each game each of these teams wins or loses will count TWICE in our RPI and Pomeroy rankings. Below are the results of games under Buzz Williams in which the team has either played in the third game of a tournament, or on back-to-back nights against D1 teams (didn’t count Chaminade).
|Opponent on 2nd straight night/3rd game of tourney||Result|