Marquette finally made the AP Top 25 for the first time in the Steve Wojciechowski era last week. As Marquette fans around the nation echoed a sigh of relief, the Golden Eagles got trounced Wednesday at Assembly Hall against Indiana 96-73. They followed up this performance by playing a lackluster first half ending in a tie and eventually beating Presbyterian by 19 at home Saturday. Many who will look at the box score and final will assume it was a solid game with a slow start, but those who watched saw a disaster. Perhaps, the worst part of it was that Marquette played an even first half with a mid-major who did not even shoot the ball well or get to the free throw line. Presbyterian shot just 38 percent in the first half and shot only four free throws. The only reason for a mid-major to hang around besides stated above is that they are legitimate, which I can guarantee you is not the case with Presbyterian who was projected and will finish near the bottom of the Big South Conference. I have never seen so many shot clock violations in my life from one team in a division one college game, and as that is somewhat a credit to Marquette’s defense it is more of a discredit to the Presbyterian offense.
I am a pessimistic sports fan, but these two performances prove that Marquette is definitely not a top-25 team yet, and I don’t believe they will be back in the rankings soon. The worst part of my realization is that this was supposed to be our year. Finally, Wojo had his recruits in with a fresh good looking freshman class led by Joey Hauser, and Marquette still isn’t a tournament team in my opinion. Maybe the Golden Eagles will sneak in by winning a extremely weak Big East with a Villanova team that lost at home against Furman Saturday, but they are not a second weekend team in a year where CBB talent looks down. As fans we can dance around the issue all we want, and as a floor slapping Wojo is a great face of a basketball program, he may not be the answer for Marquette, but I’ll cover that in my next piece. Now to look forward towards Kansas.
Kansas opened their year with a 5 point win against Michigan State where they had a wealthy lead for most of the game. Self wants to run per usual and dropped 92 points on a usually stout Michigan State defense. Kansas followed this performance with a impressive 16 point win in the Phog over a traditionally solid Vermont squad that Marquette struggled with last year and a little more unimpressive 13 point win over the Louisiana Rajin’ Cajuns. From analyzing all three games, Kansas struggled finishing long defensive possessions in the halfcourt. One thing they had no shortage of was post up buckets coming from Udoka Azubuike. The seven foot junior from Nigeria made Michigan State’s veteran bigs look like little boys with a 7-10 shooting performance accompanied by 4 blocks. The one thing Azubuike cannot do is shoot free throws. He has one of the uglier strokes that you will see and has been under 43 percent from the line in each of his three seasons. Azubuike is accompanied by Lagerald Vick atop the main offensive creators. Vick is a six foot five senior guard who has been lighting it up from three averaging 22 points. Vick also has some bounce and is known for throwing down some electrifying slams. In addition, the Jayhawks have complementing guards in Quentin Grimes (Almost a Golden Eagle), Devon Dotson, and Marcus Garrett. Their immense depth explains why they are surely a top 5 team in the nation.
A win over Kansas would carry significance equal or above the Villanova win when they were ranked number 1 in the nation two years ago. This is due to the game being neutral court enhancing Marquette’s resume substantially. So, what can Marquette do to slow them down. Well first off Marquette is going to have to hit shots especially 3s. If Marquette begins the game 0-13 from three like Saturday they will be given a 40 point beatdown. If the Golden Eagles come out hot and do sustain an early lead I think it would frustrate the Jayhawks to slow the game down. The Jayhawks want to run and I think they may panic if they find themselves in a slow game down 6-10 points. By using long sets with multiple screens Marquette should have some good chances to free up Markus Howard and Sam Hauser for some open three-point attempts. Most importantly though, Theo John and Ed Morrow will have to match Azubuike’s physicality. A hockey style rotation will be needed to have any chance at slowing the big man down, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wojo go to Matt Heldt for some early minutes even though he hasn’t been a major contributor this year. If Azubuike is absolutely dominating in what I expect to be a high scoring game I wouldn’t mind playing hack-a-shaq with him with a Marquette squad that is deep enough to encounter some big man foul trouble. Lastly, Marquette will need to survive some big runs. This Kansas team is elite and they will have periods where they will dominate, responses to these runs with big baskets and/or stops in will be crucial.
Prediction: Kansas 85- Marquette 72