Here are six answers to six questions about Marquette from Rob Lowe and Tim Blair of the Cracked Sidewalks blog, which deals with Golden Eagles basketball.
(The site's name, btw, comes from a quote from legendary Marquette coach Al McGuire: "My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house. That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk.")
1.) One of the striking things about Marquette is their relative lack of height. How have then been able to compensate?
The lack of height is more than relative. Marquette is the seventh smallest team in the nation, smallest among all teams from the so-called power conferences. To compensate the Warriors play small ball as good as anybody you'll see. Essentially Marquette's overall team quickness and fine outside shooting have neutralized taller teams because those squads have difficulty in defending MU. Buzz Williams' team is one of the best in the nation at protecting the basketball and they turn their opponents over regularly. In addition Marquette is a great three-point shooting team, finishing second in the Big East in three-point field goal percentage. Realize that despite Marquette's size, the team led the Big East in scoring defense during conference play.
2.) One of the ways seems to be outside shooting. Could you talk about that part of their game?
Marquette is 19-2 when they shoot an eFG percentage of 49% or better. And those two losses were at West Virginia and at Villanova, a pair games MU felt they should have won. To win MU must shoot well particularly from deep, and the Warriors have the personnel to do just that. Maurice Acker was near the top of the Big East in three-point field goal percentage during the regular season, highlighting a starting lineup where all five players shoot at least 34% from downtown. The general offensive philosophy is one of finding a paint touch and then the best open shot. When the offense is flowing well the ball gets into the paint and then whips around the perimeter with that one extra pass for an open look late in the shot clock.
3.) What was the cause of the relatively slow start in the Big East season, and what happened to turn it around? Does there seem to be a common theme among the losses?
MU started 2-5 in Big East play because of schedule. Four of the team's first five losses were at West Virginia, Villanova, at Villanova, and at Syracuse. That's four losses to #1 and #2 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, a rough way to start conference play. Weirdly enough however is that Marquette shoulda/coulda/woulda won four of those games (only the Syracuse game was it never in doubt). MU lost in the closing seconds in the other four contests largely by choking those games away down the stretch with missed free throws or defensive breakdowns. The team was tabbed as one of the nation's "unluckiest" teams early this season. Over time the team learned to deal with the intensity of close games and it paid off. Down the stretch MU won an NCAA record three consecutive overtime games on the road, among other close victories.
4.) Could you talk a bit about Lazar Hayward, who played on the USA University Games team with UW's Quincy Pondexter and who seems to fill something of a similar role with the Eagles as Pondexter does with the Huskies.
Lazar Hayward is one of the most underrated players in the nation. His first three years on the team he was the third or fourth option behind the guards of Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, and Wesley Matthews. This year as the undisputed leader of the team he's been great but was unfairly snubbed from the first-team All Big East squad. Hayward is listed at 6'6 and generally plays opposite the opponent's center in MU's tiny lineup. He's strong enough to match up with most bigs and has an outside game which creates fits for traditional post players who try to guard him. When Lazar's game is good he's a threat for a double-double with several three pointers. When he is off MU has little chance of winning. Luckily for Marquette Hayward has been on all season long, scoring in double-figures in all but two games. Hayward turned in eight double-doubles this season and is probably the team's best defender.
5.) There may be no single right-or-wrong answer to this, but why does Marquette seem to play so many close games, and why do they seem to do so well in them?
The phrase from coach Buzz Williams is that the team's margin for error is zero. Marquette is short and does not have much depth, so the team has to value every possession. As noted earlier Marquette shoots well from deep, an equalizer in games against better, more talented opponents. Also remember that MU lost a lot of close games early in the season. We think a lot of the recent success in close games can be attributed both to luck and experience. Some things just even out over time (luck), but it's a lot easier to win the close game if you've been-there and done that. With a veteran lineup built with perimeter players Marquette is uniquely suited for late-game situations.
6.) This may be even more subjective, but how was Marquette's seeding, site assignment and most of all first-round opponent generally viewed by team/school/fans?
The Marquette fan base is thrilled with the seed because most thought the team would land up in the 8/9 game. The initial reaction was that MU drew a high seed and an opponent from the 'weak' Pac-10. Now, before any of your readers jump all over the Marquette folks, further reflection has made us realize that both the first-round opponent and site assignment were not favorable for MU. We'd argue that Washington is a stronger team than at least any of the current 10 seeds. Essentially Marquette is now faced with playing an underseeded, hot Pac-10 team in Pac-10 country.
Meanwhile, I answered a similar list of questions about UW for the Cracked Sidewalks readership. Here's a link to those.