Marquette always seems to be a team that not much is expected from, but the Golden Eagles are perhaps the most consistent winners in the Big East. The 2011-12 season is no exception.
Their 95-78 victory over Cincinnati on Saturday left them 10-3 in the Big East. That makes it six times in its seven Big East seasons that Marquette has had 10 or more wins in league play.
But despite that, the gaudy record still leaves Buzz Williams' team with a lot of work to do if it hopes to earn a top-four seed in the Big East tournament and the resulting double bye into the quarterfinals.
The Golden Eagles are tied for second in the loss column with Notre Dame, trailing only Syracuse. But there are a jumble of teams right behind them with four losses, and the remaining five games are tricky beginning on Feb. 18 with a trip to a desperate Connecticut team that will need a victory over a ranked opponent to reenergize its NCAA Tournament chances.
And to do so, it's probably going to have to figure out how to stop the slow starts that have been the Golden Eagles' constant companion in Big East play. In the victory over the Bearcats, the Golden Eagles trailed 16-4 early in the first half, marking the fifth time the team has rallied from an early double-digit deficit to earn a league victory.
Of course, the good thing is that Marquette does have the fortitude to come back from early deficits, to the point where Williams just shakes his head, calls timeout and asks his guys to start playing. As long as it does that, the Golden Eagles are in great shape. But there's not much margin for error if the holes they dig start becoming too big to climb out of.
Todd Mayo and Buzz Williams double team Cinn's #3 Dion Dixon.
--Marquette came back against Cincinnati by getting some offense out of its defense. Cincinnati entered the game averaging just over nine turnovers per game in league play, but had nine by halftime and finished with 14. Marquette got 25 points off turnovers on the day.
"We can't win any other way than our defense helping our offense. If we're offensive-sensitive, we're going to lose," head coach Buzz Williams said.
--The victory over Cincinnati came on National Marquette Day, when the school encourages viewing parties around the country in order to celebrate the university. In addition to the folks who watched the game at one of those, plenty showed up to the Bradley Center as well. The attendance of 18,815 was the largest home crowd of the season for the Golden Eagles.
--Jamil Wilson is giving coach Buzz Williams considerable production in the frontcourt since Davante Gardner's injury moved him to the starting lineup. He had 15 points against Cincinnati after getting 18 against DePaul, the first time in his Marquette career that he's been in double figures in back-to-back games.
BY THE NUMBERS: 13-1 -- Marquette's record at home this season in its first 14 games there. The Golden Eagles were undefeated at the Bradley Center in Big East play at that point, with the only home loss coming to Vanderbilt.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I absolutely love both of those guys and because I am selfish by nature, I want our season to last as long as possible. Not just for all that comes with that, but because I want to continue to learn from D.J. and Jae. They have made me a better person and a better coach." -- Marquette coach Buzz Williams told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, on seniors Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES: --at Connecticut, Feb. 18
KEY MATCHUPS: Andre Drummond is going to be tough for the Golden Eagles to match up with on the inside. On the perimeter, however, the Marquette guards should be able to bother Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier, and the key will be forcing Jeremy Lamb towards the wings instead of closer to the top of the key. Jae Crowder will find the going tough in the paint, so a good outside shooting day would help.
FUTURES MARKET: Jamal Ferguson did not make the final cut for the McDonald's All-American game. The member of next year's freshman class was one of just two Norfolk (Va.) players to make the original list of nominees.
--Davante Gardner missed his fourth consecutive game with a left knee sprain when he sat out the victory over Cincinnati, but he hopes to be back this week.
--Vander Blue scored 14 points against Cincinnati. It's the sophomore's fourth consecutive game in double figures, the longest such streak of his college career.
--Darius Johnson-Odom's 23 points against Cincinnati moved him into 16th place in the school's all-time scoring list. He could reach 1,500 points this weekend, as he enters the Connecticut game 14 points shy of that mark.
--Jamail Jones provided instant offense off the bench against Cincinnati with a pair of three-pointers in the first half. It marked his first three-pointers since the victory over Jacksonville on Nov. 28.