The end of 2012 was a roller coaster ride of highs and lows for Marquette men’s basketball. With the Big East gauntlet begun, that roller coaster will most likely keep rolling.
We knew coming in that this year’s Marquette team wouldn’t be as balanced talent-wise as last season’s Sweet 16 finisher and it’s showed. There’ve been times when this team’s played well above their level and some downright head-scratching moments on the flip side.
The month of December got off to a great start with a coveted win over instate rival Wisconsin. Coach Buzz Williams had stated a lot of concerns before the matchup that made it seem like Marquette wouldn’t know what to expect from the Badgers. He talked about how injuries had forced Bo Ryan’s squad to veer away from their swing offense, and how it had impacted Marquette’s preparation. Those concerns melted away with a big 60-50 win. It was a nice follow up to the team’s terrible performance in a lopsided 82-49 loss at Florida, and it seemed like Marquette had turned a corner. Then Green Bay happened.
After picking up a second-consecutive win over Savannah State, the Golden Eagles severely played down to the Phoenix who came into the contest on an 0-4 streak. Brian Wardle got his first win against his alma mater in three tries, as Vander Blue missed a free throw that could’ve given Marquette a chance to tie and take the lead with 35.1 seconds left. Green Bay held on for the 49-47 win as the Golden Eagles couldn’t get a desperation bucket to fall. The loss sent Marquette fans reeling.
But again the Golden Eagles responded from an embarrassing road loss with a big win at the Bradley Center. Marquette got out to a running start against LSU, building a 45-33 first half lead. The Tigers tightened things up in the second half, but clutch play from Davante Gardner and Junior Cadougan helped the Golden Eagles hang on to an 84-80 victory.
The pattern of inconsistency continued, however, as 6-6 North Carolina Central hung around later than it should’ve in Marquette’s next contest. NC Central tied the game at 60 with 6:27 to go, but a big decision by Williams to call a hockey-like mass of four substitutions helped turn the tide. After scoring just four points in his debut against LSU, Todd Mayo finished with 12 points, giving the Golden Eagles the lead for good on the ensuing possession. Cadougan was clutch from the free-throw line as Marquette pulled away late and secured a 75-66 win.
The Golden Eagles faced a another huge obstacle to begin their Big East campaign on New Year’s Day. Brad Autry would coach in William’s stead in accordance with preseason penalties handed down by the NCAA. Autry did a great job filling in, however, as Marquette pulled off its most exciting win of the season over Connecticut, while improving its win streak at the Bradley Center to 17 games. After giving up what looked like a game-icing dagger from Ryan Boatright with five seconds to go, Cadougan drove right down court and hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that tied the game at 69 all. Jumpers by Cadougan and Blue and free throws by Trent Lockett helped Marquette to an 82-76 overtime victory.
Now on a three-game win streak for the second time this season, Marquette heads into conference play 1-0. No. 15 Georgetown is next, and with a 10-1 record the Hoyas will be a big chance at an even larger statement for this team. The Golden Eagles are still trying to uncover their identity, and their performance against what looks like the third-best team in the Big East could say a lot about Marquette’s conference outlook.
Heading into 2013 undefeated is certainly something to be excited about, but if December was any indication, it’s going to be a bumpy ride the rest of the way for Marquette fans.