The Golden Eagles (10-7, 2-2 in Big East Conference play) hauled in the conference’s top recruiting class with four four-star athletes and one three-star. With the return of senior forwards Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson combined with a stellar group of incoming freshmen, coaches and media experts alike had Marquette pegged as the team to beat in the east.
After starting out the season with two wins, the Golden Eagles slipped up against No. 10 Ohio State. A loss to a talented team like the Buckeyes is understandable, but only scoring 35 points during the entire game, that’s on the verge of depressing.
Even still, every team has an off game, and Marquette looked to recover by winning out during the remainder of its non-conference schedule. After returning to their winning ways against IUPUI, the Golden Eagles dropped another game to unranked Arizona State. The Sun Devils are an underrated team and tough to beat at home, so it was still a moderately excusable loss for Marquette as they came within two points of winning the game.
But just three games later, Marquette stumbled again. The Golden Eagles gave one away to San Diego State and lost the proceeding game to No. 8 Wisconsin. After a pair of wins against no-name teams, Marquette lost three of its next five against all unranked teams — New Mexico, Creighton and Xavier.
It won’t get any easier for the Golden Eagles as they head into the heart of their conference schedule. Marquette is on the road for its next two games against Butler and Georgetown and then has two tough home games against No. 6 Villanova and a talented Providence team led by the conference’s second-leading scorer, Bryce Cotton.
The problem with Marquette has nothing and everything to do with its returning starters all at once. The senior forwards Gardner and Wilson have played well, but the Golden Eagles have relied far too heavily on them. Gardner and Wilson are first and second on the team in points, rebounds and assists per game. The Golden Eagles live and die by those two players, and they need more output from their freshmen role players.
Freshmen Deonte Burton, JaJuan Johnson and Derrick Wilson, all four-star recruits, have combined for just 16.9 points in 59 minutes of play per game. In just 50 minutes of play, Gardner and Jamil Wilson have averaged a collective 25.3 points per game. The Golden Eagles need more balance offensively because opposing teams have been able to figure out Marquette’s game plan within the first 10 minutes of watching game film: Stop Gardner and Wilson, stop the Golden Eagles.
Marquette still has a chance to turn things around. The Golden Eagles have yet to win more than three games in a row, but if they can string together four or five consecutive victories and get some momentum going during conference play, they can at the very least make an NIT appearance and finish the season on a strong note.