REINER: Where MUBB stands through seven games

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REINER: Where MUBB stands through seven games

Photo by Doug Peters/douglas.peters@marquette.edu

Photo by Doug Peters/douglas.peters@marquette.edu

Photo by Doug Peters/douglas.peters@marquette.edu

Photo by Doug Peters/douglas.peters@marquette.edu

Dan Reiner, daniel.reiner@mu.edu

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It was just two weeks ago that Marquette Nation was in a state of panic. The men’s basketball team had just suffered an embarrassing 89-61 home loss to Iowa, a game most would agree was a missed opportunity to boost Marquette’s ranking given the remaining non-conference schedule.

“I think we got exposed in every facet of the game,” head coach Steve Wojciechowski said after the Iowa game Nov. 19. “That’s not the way a Marquette team should play.”

Wojciechowski swiftly changed the team dynamic following that game, removing the team’s blue and gold practice gear and replacing it with plain black and white attire. He also moved team practices from the Al McGuire Center to the Old Gym. Prior to the Legends Classic in New York, the team practiced on an outdoor court at McLaughlin Park in Brooklyn.

“It humbled us,” redshirt sophomore guard Duane Wilson said. “It brought back memories … That’s where you grew up, that’s where your dreams start, on a playground. You didn’t have uniforms back then.”

Since being stripped of their physical identity, the players have embraced a new mental persona. Nobody can be sure of what Wojciechowski said to his players after the Iowa loss, but it certainly left a mark.

The team has notched four consecutive wins – a shootout against then-No. 22 LSU, an overtime thriller against a respectable Arizona State squad and blowouts against lousy Jackson State and Grambling State. The perfect week, which included the Legends Classic championship, got Marquette back on the national radar.

With a 5-2 record and four weeks until BIG EAST play begins, how should Marquette fans feel at this point in the season?

It’s tough to say. On one hand, the Golden Eagles can hang their hats on the Legends Classic victory, and rightfully so. The duo of freshman Henry Ellenson and redshirt junior Luke Fischer looks formidable enough to go against the best in the country. Freshman guards Haanif Cheatham and Traci Carter complement each other and provide a solid foundation for the future.

But as far as this season goes, the Golden Eagles’ postseason hopes may rely as much on their opponents as it does on themselves.

The biggest problem for Marquette is the lackluster parity amongst its non-conference “quality” opponents. After its season-opening win at Marquette, Belmont has trudged through games and is currently 5-3 and ranked No. 89 by KenPom.com. Iowa has struggled to stay consistent despite some difficult matchups and sits at 5-2 and No. 22 in KenPom. LSU, led by international sensation Ben Simmons, has completely fallen off the rails and lost three straight before a close win over North Florida last night. The young, inexperienced Tigers, now ranked No. 84 in KenPom, lost to College of Charleston last week. Arizona State lacks a marquee victory and is ranked No. 70 in KenPom.

Wisconsin is the last remaining hope for Marquette to salvage any merit in the eyes of the selection committee come NCAA Tournament time. However, the Badgers are playing below expectations and have skidded to a 5-3 start, with challenges against Temple and UW-Milwaukee remaining before they host Marquette Dec. 12.

Marquette can no longer concentrate on its strength of schedule. Coaches, players and fans knew going into the season that the schedule was weak to begin with. Now that the quality opponents aren’t holding up their end of the bargain, it’s up to the Golden Eagles to perform well against every single team they play. That includes games in BIG EAST play, especially against Villanova, Georgetown, Butler and Xavier.

Through seven games, the growing pains are clear for Marquette. The team needs to cut down its 76.2 points allowed per game and 16.3 turnovers committed per game, which is one of the worst marks in the country. The five freshmen are still learning the game at the collegiate level, though they do look better every game.

There are solutions already in place for the Golden Eagles. Henry Ellenson needs to maintain his near-16 points and 10 rebounds per game. Fischer should continue to grow as a leader on both ends of the floor. Wilson and sophomore Sandy Cohen look better defensively.

Maybe Marquette fans pressed the panic button too early, or maybe the writing was on the wall. The team looks undeniably different since Wojciechowski brought the players back to their roots. Now only time will tell if they can dig deep enough to prove their worth to the rest of the country.

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