It is rare that Buzz Williams says that his Marquette team is tired. After all, he wouldn't even admit it after his team lost to Louisville in the Big East Tournament last year (their third game in three days).
"I don't think it's mental as much as it is emotional," said Williams after Marquette's victory over UWM on Thursday. Everybody is excited to play us guys."
After playing three games in six days immediately after final exams for the players, the team needs a break, and will get it. They have a week off, which will let most players go home for Christmas, and calm their bodies, but also their minds.
Buzz made note that Marquette is a team that their opponents circle on their schedule, especially in non-conference play. The Golden Eagles cannot afford to take a game off, or else they'll end up like the Pittsburgh Panthers, who have already lost two non-conference games, at home to Long Beach State and Wagner.
After playing Northern Colorado without senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom, MU then traveled to LSU to play the Tigers, before returning home to take on their city rivals Milwaukee.
They're doing all of this without big man Chris Otule, who has been out injured since injuring his knee against Washington. That means that, like in the past, players who aren't meant to play down low are doing so.
"Mentally, it was just wearing on us," redshirt sophomore Jamil Wilson said, "and with Chris (Otule) out, a lot of guys are logging more minutes and a lot of guys aren't used to it yet and their bodies are still sore."
Wilson isn't the only one who is tired, and there were a few other Golden Eagles that played with a very visible fatigue, with one doing so more than his teammates.
Johnson-Odom has looked a shell of the player he was for the first nine games of the season in Marquette's past two.
Against LSU, Johnson-Odom had six turnovers, and did not have the sharpness that those who follow the team are used to. He followed that up with a 4-for-12 shooting performance, which included only one three-point attempt (that he missed), along with four more turnovers. He was guarded by UWM's Ryan Allen (younger brother of the Memphis Grizzlies' Tony Allen), who might be the toughest defender he'll face this year. Still, Johnson-Odom has looked off, and he, along with the team needs this break.
The game at Vanderbilt doesn't only signal the start of the non-conference season, but could be seen as a transition into the Big East season. The Commodores are just getting healthy, which should help them play up to their preseason ranking—a top 15 team. After Vanderbilt, the conference season starts with Villanova at the Bradley Center on Sunday, followed by trips to Georgetown and Syracuse.
With those four games coming in ten days, Marquette needs this break, and they need to come back from it with a renewed energy and aggression, what we saw at the start of the season in the team's first nine games. If they don't, then Vanderbilt will spell trouble.
If Marquette beats Vanderbilt, then they will be 12-1 heading into Big East play, which some expect and most will take. 11-2 would still be good, but a win against a Vanderbilt team who will be very competitive in SEC play, would be the perfect cherry on top of what would be a successful first half of the Golden Eagles' season.
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