With four non-conference losses, the Marquette Golden Eagles didn't make much noise during the first half of the 2010-11 season. Don't be surprised, though, if things are different the rest of the way.
Buzz Williams' squad has opened Big East play with a 3-1 record, with the most recent win coming in a 22-point blowout of ninth-ranked Notre Dame on Monday.
The Golden Eagles may be a notch or two below Pittsburgh and Syracuse in the race for the conference title, but they certainly appear capable of finishing within the top five of the league standings, which would assure them of an NCAA tournament berth for the third straight year under Williams.
"I wouldn't want to play H-O-R-S-E against them," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said after Marquette went 12-of-17 from 3-point range in Monday's 79-57 win.
Marquette (12-5) has scored 73 points or more in each of its last seven games.
"Offensively, I don't think we've had any issues, any questions," Williams said.
Instead Williams said 70 percent of Marquette's practice time is spent working on defense and rebounding. He's hoping the effort continues to pay off. Beginning with Saturday's showdown at No. 18 Louisville, Marquette will face five ranked opponents in its next six games.
Marquette has three high-level players in Darius Johnson-Odom (15.7 points per game), Jimmy Butler (15.1) and Jae Crowder (13 points, 6.6 rebounds). Dwight Buycks (10.6) made all five of his 3-point attempts Monday and, after a slow start, touted freshman Vander Blue is beginning to find his way.
As always, Williams' team is undersized, but the Golden Eagles' quickness and athleticism is a tough matchup for opponents on the other end of the court.
All five of Marquette's losses – which include setbacks against Duke and Pittsburgh – have come against teams that have been ranked at some point this season. And all have been by single digits.
1. Pittsburgh (15-1, 3-0) – Brad Wanamaker averages 5.3 assists and shoots 50.4 percent from the field. (1)
2. Syracuse (16-0, 3-0) – Kris Joseph is averaging 21.3 points over his last three games. (2)
3. Villanova (14-1, 3-0) – Corey Stokes averages a team-high 16.6 points. (3)
4. Marquette (12-5, 3-1) – Dwight Buycks had a career-high 21 points in Monday's win over Notre Dame. (5)
5. Notre Dame (14-3, 3-2) – Carleton Scott has missed three straight games with a hamstring injury. (4)
6. West Virginia (10-4, 2-2) – Bob Huggins is upset with his team's effort on defense. (8)
7. Connecticut (13-2, 2-2) – Alex Oriakhi is averaging 16 rebounds over his last two games. (9)
8. St. John's (10-4, 3-1) – The Red Storm's next six games are against ranked opponents. (6)
9. Georgetown (12-4, 1-3) – The Hoyas are in a freefall. (7)
10. Louisville (13-2, 2-0) – This could be a tough week for the Cardinals. (10)
11. Cincinnati (15-1, 2-1) – Yancy Gates is one of the league's more underrated players. (11)
12. Rutgers (10-6, 1-3) – Jonathan Mitchell has only made 11 of his last 37 3-point attempts. (14)
13. Providence (11-6, 0-4) – Marshon Brooks averages 23.8 points and eight rebounds. (12)
14. Seton Hall (7-9, 1-3) – Forward Patrick Auda is sidelined with turf toe. (13)
15. South Florida (6-11, 0-4) – Augustus Gilchrist is averaging 17.3 points over his last three games. (15)
16. DePaul (6-9, 0-3) – The Demons have a chance at home Wednesday against Seton Hall. (16)
Connecticut over Texas – Just when it appeared the Huskies were about to fall into a rut, they picked up one of the more impressive non-conference victories of the season by topping the Longhorns 82-81 in overtime Austin on Saturday. Kemba Walker was just 8-of-27 from the field. But his 15-foot jumper with five seconds remaining proved to be the game-winner.
Big Monday – Pittsburgh's home showdown against Syracuse will be one of the most anticipated games of the year. The winner will take an early lead in the race for the Big East title. Unfortunately this will be the only time these two teams meet during the regular season.
Scoop Jardine, Syracuse – Not many players in the country have shown as much improvement as Jardine, who is averaging 17.3 points and six assists over his last four games. Jardine and backcourt mate Brandon Triche will need to come up huge when the Orange travels to Pittsburgh on Monday.
Providence – The Friars played close games against Syracuse and Pittsburgh but then got blown out by Rutgers. Go figure. With Marshon Brooks and Vincent Council combining to average 39 points a game, Providence will be a threat to almost any team it faces – as long as the Friars don’t let a few losses ruin their confidence.
Chris Wright, Georgetown – The Hoyas senior point guard is just 7-for-31 from the field (22.5 percent) in Georgetown's last three losses and has made just two of his last 21 attempts from beyond the arc. If Wright doesn't step up soon the Hoyas might not make the NCAA tournament.
Cincinnati – The Bearcats played a ranked team for the first time this season Saturday, and the result was hardly a surprise: Mick Cronin's team was exposed. Cincinnati's 72-61 loss to Villanova wasn't as close as the final score indicated. After Wednesday's home game against South Florida, the Bearcats play back-to-back road games against No. 4 Syracuse and No. 9 Notre Dame.
THREE TO WATCH
Marquette at Louisville, Saturday – It will only be an upset if the Golden Eagles lose.
Purdue at West Virginia, Sunday – Beating the eighth-ranked Boilermakers would be a huge momentum boost for Bob Huggins' squad.
Syracuse at Pittsburgh, Monday – It's a shame these teams play just once during the regular season.