Things don't get easier for Marquette, which faces Arizona State to begin trip
Marquette has been struggling on offense. Not a good sign as it opens a road trip at Arizona State.
By ANDREW GRUMANFS Wisconsin
MILWAUKEE -- Just four games in, Marquette has already reached what may be a turning point in its season. There's certainly no reason to panic just yet, but it's concerning when Buzz Williams rants about how there's a disconnect within the program in November.
How will the Golden Eagles respond to what essentially was a calling out of everyone involved with the program? Only time will tell, but Marquette will have to figure things out quickly with its next five games played away from the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Marquette begins its West Coast swing with a game at Arizona State on Monday. The Sun Devils, who will likely be 5-0 and ranked in the Top 25 by next week, will provide the Golden Eagles with a stiff test.
After two down seasons, ASU returned to the postseason last year and won an NIT game before falling to Baylor. Behind star sophomore point guard Jahii Carson, the Sun Devils have their eyes set on making the NCAA tournament for the first time since James Harden donned the maroon and gold.
"I think they are an NCAA tournament team," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. "I think Jahii Carson is an early-entry draft pick as a sophomore. Coach (Herb) Sendek is one of the more intelligent people that has ever been employed as a coach.
"Going into what could have been a pivotal year, he was willing to completely change how they play on both ends of the floor. They are dramatically different than they have been."
The Sun Devils have other talented pieces, but they will only go as far as Carson takes him. A lighting quick guard who has already said this year will be his last in college, Carson is averaging 24.0 points and 5.5 assists per game.
Carson turned down scholarship offers from bigger programs in order to be the difference in turning ASU's program around. After sitting out his first year on campus as an academic non-qualifier, Carson has done just that.
His 18.5 points per game average last season was second-most in school history and seventh-most in Pac-12 history. The first-team All-Pac-12 selection and co-Pac-12 Freshman of the Year will challenge Marquette's struggling backcourt.
"Jahii Carson is arguably one of the top three point guards in the country," Williams said. "Really good things happen off his hand."
Though ASU lost Carrick Felix to the draft and Evan Gordon to Indiana, Carson has received quite a bit of help from Penn State graduate transfer Jermaine Marshall. The former honorable-mention All-Big Ten selection has fit in seamlessly, averaging 18.5 points per game.
The Sun Devils' two high-scoring guards are going to put pressure on Derrick Wilson, Jake Thomas, Todd Mayo or whoever Williams decides to give minutes to at both guard spots.
The duo combined for 60 of ASU's 86 points in an impressive road win over UNLV on Tuesday, as Carson went for a career-high 40 points against the Rebels.
"They play small, with four perimeter guys," Williams said. "Some of them look like they can guard a bigger guy, but they are four guards with a really skilled five man. They play really fast and they will put us under stress real fast, real quick."
Sendek has played zone defense religiously for the majority of his career but recently shifted to man-to-man. Despite the change, Williams expects ASU and most teams to play zone against the Golden Eagles until they prove they can shoot.
Marquette is currently 260th in the country in points per game at 67.5, and that includes a win over Grambling in which it scored 114 points. The Golden Eagles have got just 14.4 percent of their points on 3-pointers, 328th in the nation.
Both of those numbers are directly caused by Marquette's extremely poor shooting percentage numbers. The Golden Eagles are 305th in the nation in field-goal percentage at 38.1 percent, 326th in effective field-goal percentage at 41.0 percent and 346th out of 351 Division I teams in 3-point percentage at 18.3 percent.
"If your opponent doesn't make any shots it makes more and more sense to keep playing zone," Williams said. "In the same matter, whether we (see) man or zone, I think it's important we get the ball reversed. I think it's important we get the zone to shift.
"The way you can get the zone to shift is to get a paint touch. You want to play in the high post and the short corner as much you can. You want your shots, if they are not coming off penetration, that someway the ball went from one side to the other quickly to allow you to take an uncontested shots."
The Golden Eagles could see the Sun Devils twice in the same week, as both teams will travel from Arizona to California for the Wooden Legacy tournament that begins Thursday.
Marquette opens up the tournament with a Thanksgiving day game against Cal State Fullerton. On opposite ends of the bracket, Marquette would only face ASU or Big East foe Creighton in its final game in California on Dec. 1.