OPINION: Playing with a purpose

MUHoop's Matt Trebby gives us his personal take on what might be plaguing the Golden Eagles, who have lost three of their last four games.

Against Vanderbilt, Georgetown, and Syracuse, the Marquette Golden Eagles were victims of allowing teams to go on huge, insurmountable runs.

Two of the runs came in the first half, and culminated in Marquette going into halftime down by an insurmountable margin. The other one happened when the Golden Eagles were winning comfortably, and stumbled to the finish—a very difficult road loss to swallow.

There are similarities for why this happens, without doubt. We can analyze x's and o's all we want and find many different reasons for these collapses. Really, the problem is related to the team's mentality.

This was very evident in MU's last two games—namely the second half against Georgetown, and the first half against Syracuse.

Marquette is as or more athletic and talented as any other team on their schedule this year. In those two halves of Big East play, Marquette failed to utilize those advantages.

Against Georgetown, Marquette couldn't even set up their offense in the second half. Whenever Todd Mayo or Vander Blue got the ball past half court, a Hoya defender (usually two or three) would trap them and force them into a turnover or an inefficient possession.

In fact, the first two Marquette possessions after the 12-minute media timeout (when Georgetown's comeback was just starting) were turnovers by Mayo and Blue.

Then, against Syracuse, Marquette could not figure out how to get into the middle of the Orange's zone defense, something they did well last year in their two meetings. More turnovers and bad shots were the result of Marquette's inability to do so.

Head Coach Buzz Williams knows when his team is at his best (and I bet his team does as well): when the ball is getting into the paint.

There are times where they look lost, but not much changes during the game. As we've seen against Vanderbilt and Syracuse, someone needs to step up and take leadership on the floor, to make sure that it doesn't take a 15-minute lapse in the game to fix the problems.

During those periods where Marquette gets dominated by an opponent, they look scared, almost afraid to attack, and afraid to fail. With Marquette, aggression and an attacking mentality is all but mandatory.

The Golden Eagles are best when they're in the paint, and penetrating to make plays. But, there has to be a level of intelligence with this.

A perfect example of this is with Vander Blue, and his "Jekyll and Hyde" performances. In the first half against Syracuse, Blue would drive into the middle of the zone and force contact, or a shot. Whatever he would do didn't come off.

Then, in the second half, we saw the good side of Blue. This was emphasized for me with one of his baskets, when he got the ball on the left wing, drove to the baseline, where a Syracuse big man met him. Instead of barreling into the defender, he stopped, and took a controlled one-handed runner, which he converted.

Marquette didn't have Junior Cadougan on the court for most of the second half against Georgetown because of his defensive inabilities. Marquette continued to struggle offensively, but the sacrifice of Cadougan's defense for his offense wasn't seen as a good move.

Late in the game, Cadougan came in and hit a game-tying runner with 46 seconds left to give Marquette a much-needed spark. Too bad it was a case of too little, too late. Buzz didn't want to make a change because he was thinking about the negative consequences of the move, not how it would benefit the team.

But, sometimes, change is necessary.

We saw what Junior could do when given the chance to control the offense against Syracuse, and he spearheaded the offense of a team that nearly pulled off one of college basketball's most impressive comebacks of the year.

Both Blue and Cadougan were playing with confidence in the second half against Syracuse (and for Cadougan when he got a chance, finally, against Georgetown), and an attacking mentality, thinking about what good they could do, instead of how they can avoid messing up.

It's not like playing with intelligent aggression is unfamiliar to MU's lead guards.

Cadougan mastered it in the later parts of last season. His play was a main reason the team was able to make it to the Sweet 16, when he was able to push the tempo, and take control of the game's tempo with relative ease.

Blue showed signs of it early in the season, but has reverted back to his play from last season, where he turned the ball over far too much, and was at times a big offensive liability.

With winnable games coming against St. John's and Pittsburgh at the Bradley Center, along with a struggling Louisville Cardinals squad, Marquette should be able to get some of their "swag" and confidence back.

They need to, because if they aspire to get back to the Sweet 16 or even compete for a top-four position in the Big East this season, then they need to play like they did late last year and early in the season. Guys like Darius Johnson-Odom and Blue need to get back to their form of the early parts of the season, where they looked like players who were at the top of their game, playing with a belief, energy and purpose that is definitely absent right now.

I think that there won't be any problems with them making the NCAA Tournament, but if they continue playing lost and letting teams make insurmountable runs, then they might end up on the bubble like last year.

Playing like this will not get you another trip into the second weekend of March Madness. In order to get further into March than the Golden Eagles did last year, they need to focus on what they need to do to succeed, instead of how they can avoid failure.

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