Scouting Report: Marquette

The Marquette Golden Eagles lived near the bubble last season and figure to make a similar journey in the winter season that's just starting. The men from Milwaukee represent the kind of opponent the Vanderbilt men's basketball team needs to beat in order to feel comfortable on Selection Sunday. Tip off is on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. (ESPN2).

Once more the Commodores will have an opportunity to make statement on national television. They finished par for the course in Puerto Rico, falling to West Virginia but defeating North Carolina. VU also opened a lot of eyes, albeit in a loss, in the overtime game on the road at Missouri.

Vandy has not opened the eyes of the voters yet, in either poll. It remains unranked while, as of press time anyway, three SEC East opponents, Kentucky, Florida, and Tennessee are all ranked. This despite Kentucky losing to a North Carolina team Vanderbilt defeated, and both UT and Florida having their share of upset losses.

Vanderbilt of course has not come close to being upset.

The Commodores have two more games out of conference to show their worthiness before opening SEC play. Both games come against quality opponents – a Marquette team that has earned five consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament, and Davidson, a school that was Butler before Butler was, nearly earning yet another mid-major a trip to the Final Four in 2008.

Vanderbilt, though, will have a couple of questions to answer in these last two non-conference games. How will Andre Walker respond after his absence due to mononucleosis? Will Lance Goulbourne's parking pass suspension only last one game? (Let's see. Cam Newton's dad can ask for hundreds of thousands of dollars for the rights to his son and gets no suspension. Gouldbourne receives a parking pass from an upper classmen and has to sit out a game. That seems fair. But I digress.) The last question to answer is will Vanderbilt's point guard play be good enough to compete for the SEC title?

Those questions will begin to be answered on Wednesday night.

MARQUETTE AT-A-GLANCE

Almost but not quite is a good way to sum up the Golden Eagles' season to this point. A year ago, no team played in more one-possession games than coach Buzz Williams' squad. Little has changed this year as his 2010-11 team enters Memorial Gym with a 9-3 record. Its losses? Five points and three points to Duke and Gonzaga respectively in the CBE Classic, and another five-point loss to in-state rival Wisconsin.

The difference this season for Marquette is turnovers. A year ago, Marquette led the Big East, turning the ball over only 10 times a game. This year, it is already averaging 13 turnovers, and that is without even playing a conference game yet, in what is widely regarded as the nation's most difficult conference.

Marquette, which finished fifth in the Big East a year ago, finds its success by being untraditional. While most teams in the conference put a team on the floor with the normal combination of two post players and a lead guard, the Golden Eagles will spread the floor, often using only one player in the post. Williams's offensive style is best described as a "penetrate and kick" and "drag and drop" basketball. This means that when any of the four perimeter players dribbles into the heart of the defense, he "drags" a teammate into the spot he vacated, while players on the opposite side of the court "drop" into positions to catch and shoot. It's commonly taught at many programs, but Marquette's offense is predicated on it, usually initiated by a high ball screen.

It's a style Marquette was extremely effective with a year ago as all five starters shot better than 35 percent from 3-point land. That success has continued into 2010-11 as the Golden Eagles currently shoot 33.1 percent from the same distance so far this season. That style was ineffective in the NCAA Tournament last year after success in the Big East Tournament: Marquette ran into a Washington team that was long, athletic, and able to defend both the dribble as well as contest MU's jump shots. While Vandy may have the length to contest the Eagles' jumpers, this game will provide coach Stallings' team with a test of its ability to defend athletic dribble penetration.

If one thing is for sure going into Wednesday night's game, it's that Marquette players will be very familiar with watching Vanderbilt. After facing the Commodores, the Golden Eagles open Big East play on New Year's Day against West Virginia. Do you think they will have watched the Dores-Mountaineers tape from Puerto Rico once, twice, or 27 times?

STARTING LINEUP

Forward – Jae Crowder
Junior, 6-6, 225; 2010-11: 11.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg, .448 3P%

Crowder is a highly touted JUCO transfer who hails from Villa Rica, Georgia. All he's done since becoming a Golden Eagle is lead the team in 3-point percentage. Crowder will be a test for Andre Walker in his return. When he's not knocking down long three's, he's also one of the most aggressive rebounders on the Marquette squad.

Forward – Jimmy ButlerSenior, 6-7, 220; 2010-11: 15.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg

Butler has been the epitome of senior leadership for Buzz Williams. Not only has he led the Golden Eagles in scoring, he's had his best nights against Marquette's best opponents, scoring 22 against both Duke and Gonzaga. (He also scored 15 against Wisconsin.) Only once (against Longwood in a 31-point win) was he held below double-digit scoring. While he frequently will be outsized in the block, he still manages to be an effective rebounder, but clearly struggles defending larger post players. Look for Fes to dominate him on the offensive end, but struggle to keep up with Butler on the defensive end of the floor.

Guard – Dwight Buycks Senior, 6-3, 190; 2010-11: 9.7 ppg, 4.7 apg .810 FT%

Williams has good upper class experience to balance his young first-year players. Buycks is one player who helps provide this balance. Though he's the only starter to not average double-digits, he is the most effective playmaker for the Golden Eagles at almost five assists per game. Buycks is also deadly from the charity stripe, but he just does not get there enough. He's shot only seven free throws in his past five games. An 81 percent free throw shooter needs to get there more. He also has a propensity for turnovers in big games. He had seven combined in the two CBE Classic losses, and he turned the ball over with three seconds left against Wisconsin, when Marquette was down three.

Guard – Vander Blue Freshman, 6-4, 190; 2010-11: 10.3 ppg, 2.9 apg

The freshman from Madison, a former Badger verbal commit, may be the Eagles' best player in the past five games. He's scored double figures in the four of his past five and has not tried to force shots the way so many freshmen are prone to do. Blue may be the most effective Eagle at attacking the basket. He's attempted only three 3-pointers in his past six games but has earned himself 22 shots from the foul line. That patience is truly amazing considering the number of 3-point shots being hoisted around him. Expect Jeffery Taylor to get the first opportunity to slow down the hot freshman.

Guard – Darius Johnson-Odom Junior, 6-2, 215; 2010-11: 14.2 ppg, 2.3 apg, 3.7 rpg

Last year, Johnson-Odom was second in the Big East in both 3-point percentage and made 3-point baskets. As he has become a more of a focal point of opponent defenses this year, his shooting has dropped off, but not terribly so. As Johnson-Odom goes, so go the Golden Eagles. He particularly struggled in the three Marquette losses. Against Duke he was 4-of-15 from the field and he followed that up with a 4-of-12 showing against Gonzaga. In the big state rivalry matchup with Wisconsin, Johnson-Odom went 1-for-9.

BENCH

Marquette's highly ranked recruiting class goes beyond Crowder and Blue. Two freshmen are key contributors on the Golden Eagles' bench. In the backcourt is freshman Jamail Jones. The 6-6 Atlanta native came into his own hitting three of four 3-pointers and has fit right in with the rest of the Golden Eagles, hitting a cool 38 percent beyond the arc. Davante Gardner is a 6-9 freshman who backs up as the solo post in Marquette's offense. He brings 7.4 points per game and almost three rebounds per game into Memorial Gym.

KEYS TO THE GAME

Take away Marquette's first option.
As mentioned above, Marquette struggles when Darius Johnson-Odom is not hitting his shots. My hunch is John Jenkins will get the first crack at slowing him down and he may get a dose of Jeffery Taylor too due to his length. The key though is stopping dribble penetration from elsewhere so Johnson-Odom's defender is not counted on for help defense more than is necessary.
Go to the glass. Coach Stallings team should do this two ways. Number one, obviously is to pound the ball inside where Festus Ezeli has a clear size advantage. Nothing will slow the game down more than forcing Marquette to double-team Ezeli and creating foul problems for the Golden Eagles. Number two is to look for offensive rebounds. Marquette does not start anyone taller than 6-7. Naturally the Dores will have a rebounding advantage. If Vanderbilt can rebound with a West Virginia and a North Carolina, it should have no problem rebounding with this Marquette team.

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