Tomorrow night (or tonight in the eastern time zone), St. John's faces off against the 10-7 Marquette Golden Eagles in Madison Square Garden at 7:00 PM. St. John's beat Marquette twice last season, but last season's Golden Eagles are a completely different team than this season's squad in Milwaukee.
If you are anything like me, you know Marquette is a whole lot different than last season - but you don't know quite how different.
Luckily, we know some fine folks at sister blog Anonymous Eagle who have been dutifully chronicling all things Marquette in an effort to bring some sense and sanity to one of the nuttier offseasons for a successful major conference basketball team.
Drama awaits as Brewtown Andy and Mr. Kensington dig into a head-spinning slew of changes in the Golden Eagles' program, the Big East team that struggles on the glass just as much as the Red Storm, the defense, and more. (Make sure to follow them at @anonymouseagle on Twitter and also on Facebook for all things Marquette. Including Big East women's volleyball.)
Rumble: So, a whole lot of "things done changed" for Marquette in the last year can you take our fans through what's different about the Golden Eagles this year from coaching to personnel to philosophy?
Anon.Eagle: First off, go grab a Snickers, cuz we're gonna be here a while.
Item #1 on the list is, of course, the departure of Buzz Williams to Virginia Tech, or, as we refer to it thanks to last year's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel beat reporter pointing out the true name of the school, VPI.
To replace that bag of bald crazy, Marquette went out and hired the highest profile assistant coach in the entire country, Steve Wojciechowski. You might remember him from such films as "Slapping The Floor At Cameron Indoor Stadium" and "Getting A Dry Erase Marker Thrown In His Direction By Mike Krzyzewski." Wojo's an intense dude for the 40 minutes that the clock is running on a college basketball game, but he's also a calm, cool, collected brainiac the rest of the time. Marquette's on their third defensive philosophy of the season already, as Wojo has pointed out that given the state of the current roster, MU's a team that needs be able to throw a lot of different pitches to be able to win basketball games.
And that brings us to the roster turnover. Gone are Jamil Wilson, Davante Gardner, Jake Thomas, and Jamil Wilson, all of whom had their eligibility end after last season came to a close. No, seriously, I mean it, Chris Otule's not on the roster any more. Stop laughing, I'm not kidding, he was only around for six seasons and he's really, really gone now and playing professionally in Germany.
Also gone from last year's team is Todd Mayo, who declared that he was leaving Marquette after his junior season to pursue a professional career in the most Todd Mayo way possible: By doing so in July, AFTER the NBA draft. Of course, if you administer some truth serum to any MU fan, they'll tell you that they're actually completely fine with Mayo no longer getting suspended on a regular basis.
Over the summer, Marquette added Matt Carlino to the roster. Based on the response we got from BYU fans after Carlino elected to use the graduate transfer rule to move from Provo to Milwaukee, he was apparently voted "Most Likely To Cause A BYU Fan To Go Into Cardiac Arrest Due To His Shot Selection."
Now we can get to the roster changes that happened DURING this season. Luke Fischer transferred to Marquette last December, so he had to sit out Marquette's first eight games this season.
That particular time frame happened to exactly match up with Finals Week at Marquette, which is also when Deonte Burton and John Dawson announced that they were both transferring out. Burton was actually playing more minutes per game under Wojo than he did as a freshman under Buzz, but he wasn't playing anywhere near as much as anyone expected, plus his mom passed away right before the season started. Dawson played 4 minutes in the opener against Tennessee-Martin, but that's it, so that's not much of a surprise, I suppose.
And now, finally, that's it. Except for Sandy Cohen, Marquette's lone true freshman, and redshirt freshman Duane Wilson, who missed all of last year after suffering a stress fracture before the season started.
Told you that was going to take a while.
Rumble: Tell us about Marquette's 2–3 record in Big East play - close wins, close losses, all losses on the road.
Anon.Eagle: From the beginning of the season the general impression was that Marquette was going to be involved in a lot of close games. We knew they weren’t going to be good enough to blow anyone out, but they didn’t seem to be bad enough to get routinely trounced either. So far that’s proven pretty true.
Also, when you look specifically at conference play, you’re looking at a different team than the one that started the season. The mid-season roster changes (Luke Fischer becoming eligible, Deonte Burton and John Dawson transferring out), did a lot to change what Wojo's trying to get them to do on the floor. In a lot of ways, everyone was starting over just as Big East season was coming around.
So we’ve got a group of guys that are fairly young/inexperienced, not used to playing with one another, and trying to learn a new scheme as they go, and a coach that's willing to try to install new concepts on the fly because he thinks they'll work. You can see why they might have let some chances get away from them – especially on the road and in a pretty tough iteration of this conference.
Rumble: The defense is good, it seems, despite playing nine athletes. I mean eight. There are eight left, right? But only seven played against Xavier? What is Marquette doing well? How does a team attack their defense?
Anon.Eagle: Seven also played in Marquette's loss to DePaul. If only that was the case against Georgetown, because then we could demand that Wojo play everyone every night just to guarantee victory due to a completely random occurrence.
As mentioned above, Wojo's a Coach K disciple, and if you've been on the internet lately, you've noticed everyone flipping out about Duke playing zone lately. While Wojo started the season as devoted to man-to-man defense as his old boss, he was encouraged by MU's early struggles (see also: losing to Nebraska-Omaha) to try something different.
The 2-3 zone debuted at the Orlando Classic, and as of late, Marquette has started working in some 1-3-1 zone as well. The 1-3-1 is designed to attack opponents and force turnovers, as MU did to particularly great effect in the first half against Xavier. The way to beat it? Shoot like a crazy person like Remy Abell and Myles Davis did in the second half against Xavier.
Rumble: Has Matt Carlino been a star on offense? Has Stevie Taylor emerged? Is Luke Fischer a savior?
Anon.Eagle: Well, star is probably a strong term. He's posting career high minutes, but matching that with bests (via KenPom) in Offensive Rating, Effective FG%, and True Shooting %, and all time lows in usage and % of team shots.
But he's still prone to "Good Carlino" (see also: Georgia Tech, Xavier, Creighton) and "Bad Carlino" (see also: Wisconsin, North Dakota, NJIT, the 5 turnovers against Xavier). But, you have to take the good and take the bad, you take them both, and there you have the Facts Of Life. I've derailed.
Steve Taylor has been freed in terms of playing time, but it seems that the knee surgery/atrophy combo that for whatever reason caused Buzz Williams to not trust him for most of last season has caused him to be largely nailed to the floor. Maybe that's just how he's always played, because we really didn't see all that much of him the past two years, but for a guy billed as "Jabari Parker's running mate" coming out of high school, he seems rather lacking in the athleticism department.
I'm pretty sure you're asking if Fischer is a savior just so I can link to the article where I specifically said that he's not. With that said, he has definitely given Marquette a dimension that they hadn't had for the first eight games of the season, which is someone over the height of 6'7". Next order of business: getting the kid shooting 77% on the season the ball more often, as he's only averaging just over six attempts per game.
Rumble: For two teams that suck at rebounding, will loose caroms just go into the stands? Is Marquette just lacking size of are the big men bad at rebounding?
Anon.Eagle: Big men? Plural??? Try big man.
The recently added Luke Fischer is the only true post player on the MU roster at the moment. He’s shown he can be a capable rebounder, but has been hampered by foul trouble in the past few games. And when he’s not in foul trouble, he probably isn’t attacking the glass as aggressively as he could, because he’s trying not to get into foul trouble. Other than that there’s Steve Taylor at 6’7" who often attempts to impersonate a big man.
But Steve has been a bit off this year, and hasn’t rebounded (or done anything else for that matter) at an especially high level. Our two most willing rebounders are Juan Anderson – a Swiss Army Knife type player, often asked to play bigger than he is – and 6’1" point guard Derrick Wilson. That’s really not a recipe for dominating the glass.
So yeah, if the Johnnies are going to rebound at a similar level, then I expect to see the ball on floor a lot, with guys either in scrums trying to retrieve it, or sort of just looking at each other waiting for the other guy to pick it up. You know, kind of like women’s basketball. Oh, now I just made myself sad while thinking about MU's 4-14 women's team.