Old Spice Classic Roundup: Marquette Surprises Doubters, Wins Two
The Marquette Golden Eagles came to Orlando for the Old Spice Classic in hopes of preparing themselves for the Big East schedule by playing against some of the better teams in the country. What the Golden Eagles got was a boatload of confidence and two wins that are sure to look good on their tournament resume come March.
They ended the tournament Sunday night with a heart-breaking loss to Florida State 57-56 in the Championship game. Senior Lazar Hayward, who finished the game with 19 points and 10 rebounds, hit a jump shot from the free throw line with 32 seconds left to give Marquette the lead before Solomon Alibi returned the favor with a baseline floater of his own. Hayward averaged 22.6 points and 7.3 rebounds over the course of the tournament and was named to the All-Tournament team.
Jimmy Butler continued his excellent play and has joined Hayward as the forwards who will battle against bigger forwards night in and night out and grab boards with hustle and fundamentals rather than size. Big men like Jason Love (21 points, 19 rebounds) and Chris Singelton (18 points, 10 rebounds) were able to get their stats in the paint, but never took over the game.
The tournament also saw a coming out party of sorts for combo guard Darius Johnson-Odom, who finished the tournament averaging 13 points and two three-pointers per game. He hit big shot after big shot and showed a nice combination of outside shots as well as the ability to drive to the hoop with both hand. His big frame and high hops allow him to hang in the air and complete shots, even with contact.
Marquette’s biggest improvement came from the overall defense and, as a team, the Golden Eagles held their opponents to under 44 percent shooting from the field and forced 48 turnovers. Constant ball pressure and quickness on the outside made it tough for opponents to get the ball in the paint and forced bad shots. Attribute a lot of that pressure to David Cubillan and Maurice Acker, the two senior point guards who really made the ship sail on the defensive end. While he struggled offensively, Acker had eight steals in the tournament and did a great job turning those steals into transition offense.
A big part of that transition offense was Dwight Buycks, who seemed to be in the right spot at the right time for Marquette on the break and finished very strong at the basket when he got the ball. Buycks is turning into the “duct tape” role for the Golden Eagles, giving them a little bit everything in the scoring, passing, and rebounding department as well as solid help defense.
Overall, the tournament has to be looked at as a major success for head coach Buzz Williams and the Golden Eagles. Basically left for dead two games in a row, first against a taller Xavier team and then a more fundamentally sound Michigan team, Marquette proved they can hang with the big dogs and use their aggressive nature into forcing teams to make bad decisions. Late in the championship game, Florida State switched to a four-guard offense and took their best player, Alibi, out of the game for a large chunk of the second half. Marquette’s match-up problems on offense let them dictate what the other team did, and the results showed.
As much as Marquette gained from this experience as a team, they also have an early headliner for their tournament resume with wins over Xavier and 15th ranked Michigan. Both of Marquette’s victories came against teams that will be in the NCAA Tournament come March and Florida State should fight towards the top of the ACC standings, meaning Marquette’s RPI will benefit greatly from playing three potential tournament teams.
The future looks a whole lot brighter for Marquette than it did a week ago. Not to say that anyone was doubting that Marquette had talent, but the early returns are showing that not only do they have talent, but coach Buzz Williams is using it perfectly and the result is wins over some of the best teams in the country. For a team that has not even peaked, early confidence can only help the ceiling grow even more as to how good the team can be.
That confidence is coming around at a perfect time as Marquette will take on North Carolina State and in-state rival Wisconsin over the course of the next two weeks in what will also be huge games that could boost Marquette’s standing even more. A win over Florida State might have pushed Marquette into the top 25, and while they should receive some votes on Monday, that’s not what the Golden Eagles are focused on.
Rather, the bigger picture of racking up wins before the brutal Big East schedule begins will be the focus of the Golden Eagles and they picked up two big ones in Orlando over the weekend.
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