BIG EAST coaches remain optimistic about Marquette despite losing streak

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BIG EAST coaches remain optimistic about Marquette despite losing streak

Photo by Andrew Himmelberg

Photo by Andrew Himmelberg

Photo by Andrew Himmelberg

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A quick look around the Marquette men’s basketball Twittersphere shows plenty of gallows humor about MU’s four-game losing skid. Just ask one student-run satire account or Paint Touches co-founder Mark Strotman.

But around the BIG EAST, coaches are downplaying Marquette’s recent woes. The four coaches who beat the Golden Eagles in the last month all pointed to reasons beyond Marquette performing poorly for the recent string of losses.

“That’s still a very, very good Marquette team,” Creighton head coach Greg McDermott said. “And I’m sure (it’s) a team nobody wants to see in the BIG EAST Tournament or in the NCAA Tournament.”

Coaches implied Marquette over-performed in the first half of the conference slate, and now that each team is playing MU a second time, coaches have figured out how to adjust to its offense, which relies on Markus Howard at a historic rate.

“I haven’t seen much of a change (in Marquette’s level of play),” Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard said. “I just think everyone is kind of figuring everyone out just a little bit more.”

Marquette’s average victory margin against Creighton, Georgetown, Villanova and Seton Hall in the first half was 2.5 points. It didn’t take much of an adjustment for those games to go the other way.

“All these games are so close,” Willard said. “It’s just coming down to a possession here or there, and that’s kind of what happened. If you look at all their games, they’re in position (to win).”

In all four wins, Marquette had second-half deficits.

“In the first game we played them we had opportunities to win the game,” Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing said. “We just didn’t close it at the end.”

“We lost a real close one to them at (Fiserv Forum),” Willard said. “We had the ball up one with a minute to go, and then had a shot to win it at the buzzer against them. We didn’t really change all that much.”

Coaches picked MU to finish No. 2 in the BIG EAST Preseason Coaches’ Poll, and the Golden Eagles will walk into Madison Square Garden for the BIG EAST Tournament Thursday as the No. 2 seed.

“They’re still a very good team,” Ewing said. “Both them and Villanova are the two (teams in the top) class of the BIG EAST.”

McDermott still acknowledged Marquette’s shooting woes. The Golden Eagles have shot below 40 percent in consecutive games for the first time this season. It’s also the first time Marquette has shot below 40 percent in a BIG EAST game this season.

“They haven’t shot it quite as well as they were early in the conference season, but … it comes and goes in college basketball,” McDermott said. “We’ve been through it, and I think every team has throughout the course of the year.”

Marquette has not been the only team to go through times like this. Every team in the conference except Georgetown has experienced a three-game losing streak this year.

Villanova went through a rough patch in February with four losses in a five-game span.

“It’s sometimes just the schedule, and you have to convince your guys of that,” the Wildcats’ head coach Jay Wright said. “It’s not that you’re not playing well. It’s just that you ran into some hot teams.”

Wright said he saw similarities between Marquette and Villanova’s losing streaks.

“They played at Villanova. They had a hot Creighton team coming in,” Wright said. “Then they went at Seton Hall, where we just lost. And then (had) a real dynamic Georgetown team that beat us also.”

Regardless of the reason for the losing skid, it has already done serious damage to Marquette’s postseason resume. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s latest prediction has the Golden Eagles as a No. 5 seed in the West region.

Before the losing streak, Lunardi projected MU as a No. 3 seed in the East region.

Marquette (23-8, 12-6 BIG EAST) will have one last chance to bolster its resume at the BIG EAST Tournament this weekend in New York. The Golden Eagles have never advanced past the BIG EAST quarterfinal round since the conference’s reformation in 2013.

“We can’t let this (losing streak) affect us because we’re going into the BIG EAST Tournament,” freshman forward Brendan Bailey said. “We just have to come together as a group, keep working hard and good things will come to us.”

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