Forgettable men’s basketball season comes to an end

Photo via binaryapi.ap.org

Photo via binaryapi.ap.org

One year ago, the Marquette men’s basketball team was preparing for its opening NCAA Tournament matchup against Davidson. With one nerve-racking victory after another, the Golden Eagles advanced to the Elite Eight and had one of its most memorable seasons in school history.

Fast forward to Sunday, and the story was far less cheery.

Marquette failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament and the National Invitation Tournament, and declined to participate in any other postseason competition, thus ending its season.

The Golden Eagles (17-15, 9-9) were picked to finish first in the modified Big East’s inaugural season, and they ended in sixth after losing the last four games of the season. As each loss in important games mounted, a March Madness bid grew more unlikely.

Despite the high level of competition it faced, Marquette’s best win was over George Washington (RPI 29th) on a neutral floor. The Golden Eagles were 3-12 against NCAA Tournament teams.

It was clear from the beginning that there could be less to be desired for the season after the team’s surprisingly close 63-56 home opener victory against Southern and its lackluster 35-point output against Ohio State. It was also evident that coach Buzz Williams struggled with his rotation and spent excessive time finding effective combinations.

Additionally, the Golden Eagles were subpar on the perimeter. In the past, Marquette relied on multiple players who did damage inside, but also had reliable outside shots.

This season, the team finished last in the conference in three-point shooting and had to depend on one-dimensional senior Jake Thomas for long range opportunities. Two of Marquette’s high-volume shooters, senior Jamil Wilson and junior Todd Mayo, combined to shoot 32.9 percent from three-point territory.

There were still positive areas for the Golden Eagles, namely the development of both senior Davante Gardner and freshman Deonte Burton. Gardner proved to be a major spark off the bench, averaging 14.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while eclipsing the 20-point mark nine times. He was a nightmare against opposing post players and frequently drew fouls.

Burton became a fan favorite with his emphatic dunks and physical presence. He averaged 6.9 points in 12.6 minutes and shot 47.8 percent from the field. With the loss of frontcourt players Gardner, Wilson and redshirt senior Chris Otule, Burton will play an even bigger role next season.

Based on Mayo’s timely shooting in a few close games, albeit not all of them wins, he will be Marquette’s primary scoring option in his senior season. Mayo averaged 11.3 points per game and was a factor in Marquette’s overtime win at Georgetown, its home win against Butler and its double-overtime loss at Providence.

The main story in the Big East was Creighton and Villanova jockeying for first place nearly all season, while teams such as Xavier and Providence established themselves as threats. Six of the 10 Big East teams are playing in either the NCAA Tournament or the NIT.

Marquette will not participate in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005, and the first time in the Williams era. In a campaign marred by poor shooting and a lack of urgency, the Golden Eagles will head back to the drawing board this summer to avenge a season to forget.