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Marquette pregame: 5 questions with Anonymous Eagle + Cracked Sidewalks

As St. John's prepares to face the #25/24 ranked Marquette Golden Eagles at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, we prepare with some questions to a pair of ace blogging teams who cover Marquette - Cracked Sidewalks (on Twitter as @crackedsidewlks) and Anonymous Eagle (on Twitter as @anonymouseagle).

Buzz Williams' team is still ranked. But the team comes off of a pair of halves that saw them fall into a deep hole against Syracuse (they came back, but lost), and give up what seemed to be an insurmountable 56-39 lead with 13:00 left to lose at Georgetown (they lost by three).

The Marquette fans drink ginger ale, chew on Rolaids, and brew calming herbal teas during the games. Learn more why - and about about Marquette's collapses, how much they depend on Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, the weaknesses in the defense, and more, below the fold.

Q. So... explain the Syracuse and Georgetown games. It seems like for two consecutive quarters, a lot went wrong. What caused the poor first half vs Syracuse and the collapse against Georgetown?

Anonymous Eagle. Go ahead and throw a dart. You'll probably hit something that the whole thing can be pinned on. But a solid place to start is quick fouls on Davante Gardner against Syracuse and Georgetown only missing 6 shots the entire second half, and only 2 of them after Marquette took their biggest lead of the game.

Cracked Sidewalks. Do we have to discuss these games? In the first half of the Syracuse game, MU had twelve turnovers and only six field goals. In the game against GU, Marquette surrendered an eFG% of 86% in the second half and became turnover-happy themselves.

The collapse against Georgetown was less surprising than the first half against Syracuse, mostly because defensive eFG% has been an issue for all of Buzz’s tenure, our primary source of frustration with the program. For a team like Marquette, it is frustrating that they were so loose with the ball for two consecutive halves. That’s something we hope does not continue and the optimist in us thinks it should be an aberration given the team’s performance year-to-date.

Q. What does Chris Otule do to change the game, and is his absence a big factor for Marquette? Which current player can't afford to have a bad game for Marquette?

Anonymous Eagle: Even if you watched Big Chris for the whole game, I don't know if you would be able to nail down what he really means for Marquette. On New Year's Eve, I looked at the Four Factors before and after Otule got hurt. One of the things that I noticed was that Marquette's eFG% is way down, more than 10 percentage points. This isn't because Otule is a dominant big man, but I suspect it's because he knows how to seal his man when one of Marquette's talented guards starts heading to the rim. This is a really short video clip, but it shows how Chris could keep his guy out of Lazar Hayward's way for the easy dunk. This was from 2 years ago. How good is he now? I'd guess it's at least 10 percentage points better.

Cracked Sidewalks. The absence of Otule is still being debated within the MU community. There is no question that his defensive presence, particularly based on size and shot-blocking prowess, helped to cover up some of the guard rotations. Otule had the highest stop percentage on the team. However, based on what we’ve seen so far, Marquette has largely been playing worse because we’ve been playing better opponents. We believe that Marquette may have started to figure out how to play without Otule… they just need to do it more consistently.

As far as which current player can’t afford to have a bad game there are two -- DJO [Darius Johnson-Odom] and [Jae] Crowder.

Q. How have Vander Blue, Jamil Wilson, and Junior Cadougan stepped in/ stepped their games up to replace the loss of Jimmy Butler, Dwight Buycks, and the depth lost?

CS. Good question. Junior is also still being debated. He’s too careless with the ball (his turnover rate is roughly 25%), yet he has a great A/TO rate. He’s had many games where he does nothing offensively, or worse, shoots terribly. However, he’s definitely been trying to step up his contributions, and was one of the keys for the comeback attempt vs Syracuse where he poured in 10 second half points.

Vander has been struggling more in the tougher games –as he did during his freshman season - but is still finding ways to contribute without scoring through rebounds, assists, and defense. His line against the ‘Cuse was the latest case in point. Jamil Wilson was expected to be the third guy stepping in for Jimmy, but has not been that player yet. As his responsibility now changes with the loss of Otule, there are signs of improvement from him.

AE. Junior has picked up where he left off last year and is the point guard that we've all hoped he was going to be from day 1 and has showed flashes of a dynamic player who knows how to go get a bucket when Marquette needs one. Vander's non-scoring stats are all up from last year, so he's chipping in on doing all the small things that Jimmy did. Wilson's probably more reminiscent of Butler's sophomore year, when he went largely unnoticed because he was only doing what the team needed him to do and wasn't the focus of anything.

Q. Last year, the Marquette defense was pretty poor - especially in conference. Is it better? What mistakes to the Golden Eagles make on defense?

CS. No. The defense is not better. It’s annoying as sh*t. We’ve been on this point for years – the Marquette program lost its defensive identity under Buzz Williams. There were signs early this season that the program had turned a corner defensively by delivering a series of very effective performances against solid competition.

As the team moved through December however, that effectiveness waned.

Marquette is what it is – an inconsistent defensive unit that looks to a powerful, efficient offense as a counterbalance. Pollyanna reappeared after the ‘Cuse game when the MU defense held the Orange to an eFG% of roughly 45% - far, far below their season average of 55%. Of course, Cassandra is waiting in the wings, chuckling quietly.

AE. It *WAS* better before Otule got hurt. Now Marquette's guards have to stay in front of their man for one more step before they let a driving player go instead of letting Otule clean up their mess, which is leading to fouls that Marquette can't afford.

Tack on what Buzz Williams takes as acceptable risk and some Marquette fans (hi, Rubie!) consider a fatal flaw in sagging to the middle when their man is 2 or more passes away from the ball leading to WIDE OPEN THREES, and Marquette's in a lot of trouble.

Q. Feeling pessimistic or optimistic about this game? Why?

AE. Optimistic, but that's probably only because Marquette HAS to win this game after reasonable losses on the road to two top 10 teams. Plus I'm a big fan of KenPom's chance of winning predictions, and things are looking awfully nice for MU there.

CS. Cautiously optimistic. Despite collapsing vs GU and folding in the first half vs Syracuse, Marquette showed great resolve in the second half of that game. We are cautiously optimistic that Marquette will recover on this three game home stand and start learning to put it together consistently. However, there have been far too many poor performances this season, so if Marquette stumbles again things will turn sour quickly.

Thanks again to Cracked Sidewalks and Anonymous Eagle for taking some time out of their day to help illuminate Marquette basketball. Check out their sites; both are excellent teams of writers with good insight.

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