Marquette shows signs of offensive progress in Monday’s defeat

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TEMPE, Ariz. — On the heels of two poor offensive performances, the way in which No. 25 Marquette began its game on Monday night against Arizona State may have led to many Golden Eagle fans thinking the same thought: here we go again. After a Jamil Wilson jumper 12 seconds into the game Marquette missed eight straight shots, leading to the Sun Devils jumping out to a 14-3 lead just over four minutes into the game.

For the half Marquette shot 37.5% from the field, and that combined with some shoddy defense (Arizona State needs to be credited for their work offensively, as well) resulted in the Golden Eagles trailing by 11 at the intermission. In front of a hostile crowd and once again struggling to consistently find quality looks, this was a point when Marquette could have easily succumbed to the pressure.

However Marquette didn’t fold, executing much better offensively in the second half and having a chance to send the game to overtime before a Jordan Bachynski block as time expired gave Arizona State the 79-77 victory. Marquette didn’t play its best game defensively, as Arizona State shot 53.7% from the field and averaged 1.23 points per possession, but the Golden Eagles’ improved offensive performance is certainly a positive to be taken from the first stop on their trip west.

“Four turnovers and as good as we were on the offensive glass, that’s good,” head coach Buzz Williams said following the defeat. “But it’s not good if on the other end, in both halves, they shot 54%.”

Marquette finished the game with 18 assists on 28 made baskets, and their turnover percentage (6.3%) was a season-low. And from an efficiency standpoint (120.7 efficiency) this was the Golden Eagles’ best offensive performance since their win over Grambling State (140.7), and with all due respect to the Tigers producing at that rate on the road against a team the caliber of Arizona State is an entirely different matter.

Marquette shot just 40.6% from the field, and the field goal percentage likely won’t be all that high this season due to their overall lack of shooters. But the Golden Eagles can make up for that on the boards, and they did so against Arizona State by rebounding nearly 40% of their missed shots. Add in good performances from guards Jajuan Johnson (nine points off the bench), Jake Thomas (16 points, five three-pointers) and Derrick Wilson (14 points, seven assists and no turnovers), and there are positives Marquette can take from this game.

It should also be noted that Marquette was without the services of the injured Todd Mayo (ankle), and when he returns to the lineup that another experienced perimeter option for coach Williams to call upon. Expecting this group to be “lights-out” shooters wouldn’t be the best thing to do, but Marquette has the activity needed to make up for that in other areas.

The next step is to see whether or not the Golden Eagles can string together solid offensive performances, and this weekend’s Wooden Legacy should be a good litmus test in that regard. And while their defense against Arizona State was a major issue, that performance was a departure from what the Golden Eagles do on that end of the floor when comparing it to their loss to Ohio State.

Marquette didn’t defend well on Monday night but they still had a shot at leaving Tempe with a win, and for that they can thank their improvement on the offensive end.

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.