Marquette men’s basketball: The best and worst so far

The 2012-13 season has been a bumpy ride for Marquette, with some head-scratching performances and some huge statement wins. With the Big East season underway, let’s take a look back from November through winter break at the team’s best and worst moments so far.

Worst

1. The Classic opening that wasn’t

Marquette was ready to start its season in grand style by participating in the Carrier Classic in Charleston. The Ohio State Buckeyes (then ranked No. 10) would have provided stiff opposition, and the game would have shown where the Golden Eagles stood heading into the new season. Marquette mopped the floor with the Buckeyes in the literal sense of the phrase, as condensation on the court forced the Classic’s cancellation.

2. Clarke’s Caper

Close games almost always separate heroes from goats, and early on Marquette dealt with more of the latter. There was trouble in paradise right out of the gates in the Maui Invitational. Marquette played with the bruising, fast-paced style that its faithful have come to expect in the first round of the tournament, but Butler was right there with it. Senior guard Junior Cadougan missed a key free throw in the final seconds, and Butler’s Rotnei Clarke made a miraculous buzzer-beating three-pointer to steal the win and a chance to take on North Carolina.

3. Gator Bait

A late November trip to Gainesville, Fla., provided a chance for the Golden Eagles to get a little revenge on the team that ended their sweet 2011 run. Instead, Marquette turned in its worst performance to date under coach Buzz Williams. No. 7/7 Florida swamped Marquette in an 82-49 loss that dropped the Golden Eagles to 5-2 and brought up quite a few questions about the team’s character.

Best

1. Beating Bucky again

After a week of stewing over the Sunshine State beatdown, Marquette took full advantage of a chance to redeem itself against its bitter rival. A near-sellout crowd was on hand at the Bradley Center to witness another classic showdown with Bo Ryan’s Badgers. Cadougan and junior guard Vander Blue emerged as capable leaders in the 60-50 win. Blue got Marquette rolling early with 15 points in the first half, while Cadougan almost single-handedly closed out Wisconsin-Madison with 13 points in the final 10 minutes. There will be much more to come from the duo.

2. Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue

Many wondered at the beginning of this season who would fill the leadership roles vacated by Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder. Blue and Cadougan provided the clear answer so far. Blue leads the team in scoring with 13.9 points per game, thanks to a much-improved arsenal of moves to the basket, outside shooting ability and defensive awareness. Cadougan quickly tossed aside the title of goat and become the team’s top performer in the clutch, especially in conference play.

3. Soaring to the top of the standings

Cadougan’s improbable game-tying three-pointer led to an 82-76 overtime win over Connecticut in the Big East opener. The Golden Eagles showed that the close win was no fluke just four days later in a home matchup with No. 15/16 Georgetown. The Battle of the Jesuits became a battle of free-throws in the final minute, and thanks to junior forward Davante Gardner, Marquette pulled of the upset in a defensive 49-48 struggle. The win streak reached five games Saturday as Blue scored 22 points in another overtime nail-biter against Pittsburgh. A dramatic buzzer-beating three-pointer from Lamar Patterson sent the game into the extra period, but the Golden Eagles used an 8-2 run to pull away in overtime.

A lot was made of Marquette’s very difficult non-conference slate, but instead of wearing the Golden Eagles down, it appears the early adversity did marvels to prepare them for the Big East gauntlet. There’s still a lot of season left for Williams’s squad, but now perched at the top of the conference, the Golden Eagles are starting to show their March Madness potential.

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