On Monday night, after Marquette defeated South Florida 63-50, Golden Eagles basketball blog Paint Touches tweeted: “Marquette now tied for first in the Big East. On January 28. Nope, didn’t see that coming.”
Did anyone? Remember, this team lost to Wisconsin-Green Bay, which was 3-7 at the time, 49-47 on Dec. 19. That was six weeks ago. Three weeks before that, Florida ran Marquette ragged for 40 minutes in Gainesville, obliterating the hapless Golden Eagles, 82-49.
My, how things have changed for the better.
Marquette is level with Syracuse atop the Big East standings at 6-1. Its only loss came by two points in overtime at now-ranked Cincinnati. How on earth did that happen?
For one thing, almost every player on the roster stepped up an area or multiple areas of his game to improve the team as a whole. Junior Cadougan scores at will late in the shot clock. Trent Lockett crashes the offensive glass for tip-ins like the opposing big men don’t exist. Davante Gardner has raised his post game to an even higher level and refuses to miss free throws. Vander Blue shows flashes of invincibility as a scorer (like his 30-point masterpiece versus USF Monday).
Less noticeable but still valuable contributions include Derrick Wilson’s rock-solid but not flashy whatsoever backup point guard play, Juan Anderson’s newfound three-point stroke and endless hustle, the emergence of Jamil Wilson’s mid-range game and glimmers of Steve Taylor’s potential as a dominant, inside-out collegiate forward.
All of these individual accomplishments add up to Buzz Williams’ most cohesive team in his five years at Marquette. Just ask Cadougan what he thinks about the 2012-13 guys.
“We just love each other, man,” Cadougan said. “In the four years I’ve been here, this is the closest team that I’ve ever been apart of. We just love each other and we play hard for each other. It shows the results right now.”
Cadougan hits it right on the head. Last year was about Jae and DJO. Two years ago was about Jimmy, and before that Lazar and even the three amigos. This year, who’s it about?
Blue is the closest thing Marquette has to a true star. Monday was his breakthrough performance. With Gardner ejected from the game and USF threatening to fight back, Blue took over and ended up scoring 20 more points than any other Golden Eagle.
This year’s version of Marquette basketball promotes team above all else. They play together, for each other and win at all costs. They obliterate their modest preseason expectations game by game, win after win.
As Williams said to the team after the infamous bat incident Saturday, “Damn the bat, we have to win.”