Marquette about to face another road test
The road has not been kind to Marquette. Though the Golden Eagles have played just two true road games this season, the results in both have been dreadful. First came an 82-49 drubbing at the hands of then-No. 7 Florida. Two weeks later, Marquette struggled mightily in a 49-47 upset loss to UW-Green Bay.
Now, as Marquette prepares to play its Big East road opener Saturday at Pittsburgh, the Golden Eagles will need to step up to continue their historically solid play in road conference games under head coach Buzz Williams.
In three of Williams' four seasons at the helm, Marquette has gone 5-4 in conference road games, with the exception coming when the Golden Eagles were 3-6 in 2010-11.
Though it's assumed in college basketball circles that winning conference road games is a great challenge, Louisville coach Rick Pitino believes the Big East is one of the leagues in which a team can win on the road.
"Refereeing has a lot to do with it," Pitino said on this week's Big East conference call. "I think the refereeing in the Big East is very, very strong. They have veteran officials that the crowd doesn't get to them. A lot of these guys have been weathered. They've been around a long time. They are tough and not intimidated by coaches.
"The number two reason is you play in very large venues, and there aren't those small bandboxes -- although there are a few in our conference. But, by in large, we play in a lot of pro arenas, a lot of open arenas, and they're not as close to the court where the crowds have as much influence on the game."
Low-scoring games: St. John's coach Steve Lavin has taken note of some low-scoring games in the Big East and around college basketball.
Including Marquette's 49-48 victory over Georgetown, a lot of teams are struggling to score for extended stretches of games.
"I think partially it's the grind nature of the Big East, going back to that razor thin-margin for error," Lavin said. "Teams are so well-scouted in terms of the overall scheme a team runs offensively but also individually. There will be stretches where teams struggle to score."
How does he approach his team when it just can't score? He knows if he overreacts to the situation his players will, too.
"That's when you find yourself in the desert in the middle of a drought," Lavin said.
Two banged up programs: When Ed Cooley and Kevin Willard took their jobs at Providence and Seton Hall, both knew there would be an uphill climb to rebuild.
What the two coaches didn't expect was that their teams would be ravaged by injuries. Already picked to finish near the bottom of the league, both teams are fighting to find ways to overcome the adversity.
"You do the best you can and you have to be positive in your approach," Cooley said. "You can easily get down. When you look at our first three games with injuries and stuff, it's not a league that's going to feel sorry for you."
Both teams have had a hard time finding enough healthy bodies to run a full practice. That makes it tough on the coaches to prepare for games while at the same time not burning out the bodies they do have available.
Providence has played a game this season with five scholarship players available and played the entire first semester with six scholarship players. Cooley even held an emergency walk-on tryout just to find practice players.
While Cooley called having to get creative in the way he practices an "understatement," Willard has fought the temptation to do the same thing. He fears that getting too far outside of the players' routines and comfort zones causes them to play poorly.
"We are trying to figure it out a bit and work with it," Willard said. "It's a tough balancing act right now. For the most part, I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It's been a tough two weeks."
When Cooley got star guard Vincent Council back from a hamstring injury against Brown on Dec. 28, his other guard, Bryce Cotton, couldn't play because of fluid in his knee.
So instead of working Council back into the rotation slowly by playing him 12-14 minutes, he ended up playing Cooley 38 minutes.
Ollie's new contract: As a college coach, it's almost impossible to recruit student-athletes to your program when you are on a one-year contract.
But that's exactly what new Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie was given when he was hired to replace Jim Calhoun in September.
With his team off to an 11-3 start, Ollie was rewarded with a five-year contract extension, and he's already seen the impact when talking to recruits.
"It's helping out," Ollie said. "Of course, it takes the question off the table that a lot of parents, players and whoever is involved in the recruitment is going to have: Is the coach going to be there? Now I can say without a shadow of doubt that I'll be here until they tell me I have to go."
Watching from afar, Pitino has been impressed with how Ollie has stepped into the role.
"I knew this was going to happen with Kevin Ollie," Pitino said. "Kevin Ollie was about as perfect a choice as head coach as any school could have. It was a perfect match. Extremely bright, players are going to love playing for him, just a tremendous, tremendous marriage."
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