Don’t Let Today’s Game Fool You: Marquette Can Win New Big East Conference

Benny Sieu – USA TODAY Sports

Today’s game between the 22nd-ranked Marquette Golden Eagles and the 10th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes was ugly, to be sure, but it was also pretty in a sense because it was chock full of speed, effort and entertainment.

The 52-35 Buckeye win probably left many Marquette fans infuriated with their team’s inability to take care of the ball and failure to find a perimeter shooter, but these games happen. The Golden Eagles will learn from this game and it will propel them to yet another top-three finish in the newly formed Big East Conference.

There were turnovers galore (20, to be exact), but they were because of Marquette’s attacking style. There were plenty of attempted — and failed — fast breaks, but Marquette was smart to run on Ohio State because Marquette knows it is a poor outside shooting team (1-of-18 from three) and Ohio State defends the three-point line like a mother bear protects her cubs.

When the fast breaks didn’t work, the Golden Eagles looked to get the ball inside for a high-percentage shot and/or free throw opportunity. That was smart because Ohio State doesn’t have its usual interior defensive presence. While there weren’t lot of fouls on Marquette today — 18 is reasonable given the rule changes — the Golden Eagles usually struggle with foul trouble. However, they only struggle with fouls because Marquette’s players do not allow penetration very often, and when they do allow an opponent into the lane, that person gets punished. Punishment leads to second-guessing, which leads to opposing teams shooting contested three’s for the majority of the game. Contested threes usually lead to favorable rebounding odds and fast break opportunities for Marquette. Today just wasn’t Marquette’s day, but Buzz Williams will have the Golden Eagles ready for the Big East season because he plays to his team’s strengths.

Losses early in the season aren’t the end of the world to Williams. He seems to coach his team on the principle that mistakes are acceptable as long as they’re made going 1,000 miles per hour. He knows that each non-conference game serves as preparation for the conference season, and conference games serve as preparation for March. The Golden Eagles will reduce their turnovers, improve their three-point shooting percentage and develop a consistent inside presence other than Devante Gardner over the course of the 2013-14 season because Williams has proven in the past that he is willing and able to adapt his system to fit his players and turn their weaknesses into strengths.

Williams recruits players effectively because he lets them have free reign to do just about whatever they want on offense. He wins games because he gets those talented, freewheeling offensive players to do the dirty work that most teams and players refuse to do. The Golden Eagles play in-your-face pressure defense, crash the offensive boards and set hard picks. As a result, Marquette is successful every year because the Golden Eagles work hard, and their attention to the little things covers up their deficiencies.

An aggressive approach does not always coincide with positive results or a ton of points; you saw that today. However, Buzz Williams has shown time and again that his assertive approach to basketball instills a fearless mindset in his players that is critical to success in the NCAA Tournament.

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