Marquette Wire

PLOEN: Marquette has to win out to make the tournament

Andrew+Rowsey+has+had+hot+and+cold+streaks+this+season.+His+shooting+has+been+a+catalyst+for+Marquette%27s+offense+when+he%27s+on+point.
Andrew Rowsey has had hot and cold streaks this season. His shooting has been a catalyst for Marquette's offense when he's on point.

Andrew Rowsey has had hot and cold streaks this season. His shooting has been a catalyst for Marquette's offense when he's on point.

Photo by Helen Dudley

Photo by Helen Dudley

Andrew Rowsey has had hot and cold streaks this season. His shooting has been a catalyst for Marquette's offense when he's on point.

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Marquette’s NCAA Tournament chances are in a much different place than they were three weeks ago.

After losing five out of its last six games, the Golden Eagles are in “must win” territory for the remainder of the season and will have a difficult road ahead of them, starting Saturday night in Omaha, Nebraska, against Creighton.

This scenario is reminiscent of where Marquette was last season. Going into National Marquette Day against Xavier, the Golden Eagles were 6-7 in conference after having lost the previous four out of five games. Marquette snapped out of its funk in a victory against Xavier, which was the start of a stretch in which the Golden Eagles won four out of five games.

Unlike last year, Marquette doesn’t have any signature wins. The Golden Eagles have played eight teams ranked in the top 30 of KenPom, a prominent college basketball analytics site, and lost all eight. Last season’s team won two such games by this point in the season, including a win over No. 1 Villanova.

Creighton, which is ranked No. 23 in KenPom, plays Marquette twice in the final five games. It’s Marquette’s final two chances in the regular season to get a quality win. The Bluejays boast a talented offense; It’s second in the BIG EAST in scoring with 85.1 points per game. Star guard Marcus Foster is the conference’s fourth-leading scorer with 20.6 points per game and is exactly the kind of ball-dominant slasher that has given Marquette fits this year.

Marquette still has some advantages going for them: The team’s shooters are as deadly as ever from distance, ranking second in the conference with a 40.2 percentage from beyond the arc. That includes Sam Hauser’s 49.3 percent shooting from the 3-point line in conference while Andrew Rowsey is at 37.9 and Markus Howard is not far behind at 36.8. There aren’t many teams better at icing close games from the free throw line, either, although the Golden Eagles’ 80 percent clip on freebies would be more meaningful if they got to the line more often.

Everything that transpired in the last few games has made Marquette’s weaknesses abundantly clear. In 18 of Marquette’s 25 games, opponents have had an effective field goal percentage higher than the national median of 50.8 percent. Nobody on the team is capable of checking top-level guards, which was made clear when the Golden Eagles allowed 44 points to St. John’s guard Shamorie Ponds in the 86-78 loss last Saturday.

Marquette will have to do better on the road if they are to make the NCAA Tournament. Three out of five remaining games are away from the BMO Harris Bradley Center, although two of them are against the conference’s bottom two teams: DePaul and Georgetown. Considering the Golden Eagles comfortably beat both at home earlier this season, it’s not out of the question that it could happen again on the road.

The question for the remainder of the season will be whether Marquette’s shooting is enough to mask its poor perimeter defense or, whether it’ll be the other way around. If it’s the former, there might be a chance at a second straight tournament berth. If it’s the latter, any remaining March Madness chances will be dead by the end of next weekend.

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