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Previewing Marquette: Rutgers Basketball Game 14

A little different look this time.  The fine folks at Anonymous Eagle were kind enough to answer a few questions about their team.  We did the same for them, so take a look over there later in the day.

Questions and answers after the jump...

1) Who is your best player this year?

If you has asked me this before Marquette's last two games, I would have said senior forward Jimmy Butler.  Now, I'm not so sure.  It might just be JUCO transfer Jae Crowder, who scored 29 points and grabbed eight rebounds against West Virginia on Saturday.  The kid can score from outside -- he hit two of four from three against WVU -- and he can score inside, and he was a terror on the offensive glass against the Mountaineers.  It would be foolish to expect that kind of production going forward, of course, but there have been signs that Jae was capable of a game like that.  In terms of talent, he might be the best we've got.

Now, if we're talking most important player, that's still Butler.  He only attempted four field goals against WVU, but he stuffed the stat sheet with seven rebounds, six assists, two steals, and two blocks.  If Marquette is going to win in the Big East, Jimmy needs to be playing well -- scoring, hopefully, but creating for others and taking charge of the glass if he's not.
 2) What style do you guys play and how does it work to your advantage?

Marquette looks to create turnovers on defense, and tries to turn those possessions into quick transition buckets on the other end.  We struggle in the half-court on defense: MU is primarily a man-to-man defensive team, though they'll show a zone look a few times a game, and the focus (at least in theory, anyway) is to deny paint touches and double-down if the ball is worked inside.  Like I said, that's the theory; in practice, Marquette gives up a lot of easy entry passes and a lot of backdoor cuts, and the practice of doubling on the big man often leads to wide open looks, which is probably one of the main reasons Marquette is ranked 249th in defending the three this year.

On offense, Marquette will attack the rim relentlessly.  We're not a very good shooting team, and our main outside threat, Darius Johnson-Odom, has shown a troubling habit of going into a shell if he misses his first few looks from deep.  Thankfully, that's changed in the last couple games, as DJO shook off cold starts and sizzled in the second half.
 3)  What do you expect from this Big East season?

A lot of close games.  Marquette lost its four significant non-con games (Duke, Gonzaga, Wisconsin, Vandy) by a total of fourteen points, and the game against West Virginia went down to the wire, as well.  That was the trend last year, too, and it's both a blessing and a curse: Marquette won't quit on any game and will scratch and claw its way back in even when we're down double-digits in the first half ... but, at the same time, Marquette really can't put anyone away, either.  If we're up or if the opponent is up, no lead is safe.
 4)  What do you expect from this game tonight?

A close game.  Marquette's only played in the RAC twice, but we got blitzed in the first contest (I believe Rutgers scored 90+) and nearly gave away a 20-point lead the last time we came to Jersey.  Throw in the fact that the Scarlet Knights have been really good at home so far this year, and that this Marquette team hasn't experienced a Big East dogfight on the road yet, and we're probably in for another Pepto game.  I know that Rutgers has struggled, at times, with its shooting, and Marquette's had some clunkers from outside as well, so I'm going to predict close and ugly tonight.
 5) How do you feel about the job Buzz Williams is doing so far?

I think most fans feel pretty good, on the whole.  Coach Buzz was dealt a great hand in his first year, as he had seniors Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, and Wesley Matthews to work with, and, in his second year, he had Tom Crean-recruit Lazar Hayward leading the charge.  That said, it wasn't all seashells and balloons in the first couple seasons: Coach Buzz had to scramble to fill the recruiting classes, as big-time recruits like Nick Williams (Indiana, then Ole Miss) and Tyshawn Taylor (Kansas) jumped ship when The Smarmy One fled to Indiana.  All that scrambling causes some misses on the recruiting front; in the last 18 months, four players have transferred out of the program, including two (Jeronne Maymon in '09 and Reggie Smith this year) who quit before the second semester of their freshman years.

Despite the success of the last two seasons, the program is a bit unstable right now, as we're relying heavily on JUCO transfers (Butler, who entered as a sophomore in '08; DJO, a sophomore transfer in '09, and starter Dwight Buycks, a junior transfer in '09; and Crowder this year) and struggling to develop four-year players.  We have a couple of promising newcomers in dynamic freshman Vander Blue and big man Davante Gardner, and the hope is that they can develop into the kind of leaders that James, McNeal, Matthews, and Hayward became.  If that happens, we're in good shape.