For those Marquette Basketball fans that feel that they have been living in the twilight zone for the past three and a half years, Tuesday night was another trip down memory lane. The Golden Eagles battled, but in the end came up short to a bigger and stronger basketball team.
If you came into this one looking for an exhibition on how to run the fast break and score quick baskets, you were bitterly disappointed. Marquette and Tennessee combined for 24 turnovers and 55 fouls (31 of which whistled against MU). Still, the opportunities were there for the Golden Eagles, but there was just not enough gas left in the tank at the end.
Understand that I am not claiming this team did not give enough effort. I applaud every single one of the eight guys that wore the uniform Tuesday for leaving it all on the floor. The problem is that it wasn't nearly enough. Saying this team is limited is like saying the Pope is Catholic. Face facts, everyone. You cannot expect the starting five not to get in foul trouble if they are all playing at least thirty-five minutes (by the way, hats off to Dwight for playing 35 minutes).
So what can Buzz Williams do? Go to his bench like most normal coaches do of course. WRONG. The drop off from the starters to the guys coming off the pine is about as steep as the Himalayan Mountains. In order to stay in the game against Tennessee, Buzz had to keep his best on the floor as long as they could still breathe.
What did that get them? A two-point deficit with 2:20 to play. MU was then outscored 10-0 for the rest game.
It's always disappointing to lose, but there are positives to take away from this. Wes Matthews poured in a career-high 30 points and single-handedly kept this team alive when it appeared ready to collapse. Unfortunately, the lesson learned isn't so positive.
If this teams has serious aspirations of having success in Big East play and making some noise in the NCAA Tournament, they are going to have to develop a bench and a way to defend the post. Barro and Fitzgerald gave them that free pass last year with their interior defense and sporadic scoring outbursts, but they cannot get by any more with this front court. The Big Three are playing as well as anyone could have asked for this year (Dom could have shot better in Nashville, be we're talking as a whole). Along with Lazar Hayward, they have carried this team as far as it can go with just those four performing at a high level.
Someone… anyone… MUST step up for this team in order for it to be a legitimate threat. The pressure that is going to fall on Chris Otule and Joe Fulce once they return is going to be unreasonable, but not unwarranted. Jimmy Butler has been nice, but cannot be the spark off the bench. Pat Hazel does not have the talent to do it. David Cubillan has clearly not fully recovered from shoulder surgery, and at 5'6" Maurice Acker cannot be expected to be a big contributor.
The loss to Tennessee is not devastating on paper and to the tournament committee. Falling short to a ranked team on the road is noting to be distraught over. But the way this team has begun to shape up is cause for concern. When it comes down to it, if Coach Williams honestly feels his best chance to win is playing his starters 35 minutes a piece, then so be it. He's not going to force something that is not there.
Tuesday night might have felt like the same old song and dance, but come Selection Sunday Marquette fans might find themselves without a ticket to the prom.
Brian Henry is a senior in the College of Communication, majoring in Broadcast & Electronic Communication. He serves as the Sports Director of Marquette Radio (WMUR), and the Coordinating Producer of MUTV's live sports remotes.