Marquette ready, rested for conference run
MILWAUKEE -- Most coaches call this stretch of time in the college basketball season the "Dog Days of February."
The college basketball season is a grind. Starting in November, players are excited, ramped up to play. By late-January to early February, teams are looking to March.
For Marquette coach Buzz Williams, this is a crucial time for a coach to still have his team find a way to improve. This week, Williams' challenge was even greater because the Golden Eagles had a bye week in conference play and a full week off in between games.
The fight becomes making practice productive and competitive, but not boring. There's only so much film Williams can watch on Providence. Eventually, it's time to play.
"When you've played over half your season and you realize what's at stake, everybody is ready for the next game and what's next," Williams said. "The team's that typically improve in that time of year are the teams that are left standing in March."
Marquette won't have a full week off in between games for the rest of the regular season. After Saturday's game against Providence, the Golden Eagles play again Monday night against South Florida. Williams has to give the team two days off after playing the Bulls in order to meet the required off days because Marquette plays three games in the next NCAA compliance week.
Starting with the Louisville game on Feb. 3, Marquette plays four days in nine days. In 2012, Marquette played 10 Big East games in the month of January. This season, the Golden Eagles played just seven.
"I'm not complaining about the schedule but you still have to pick those games up so you are probably going to pick those games up in February," Williams said. " … That's a chore."
Though practice time is valuable, Williams would much rather play this time of year.
"I understand the mental break, because it's healthy for me. I understand the physical break, because it's healthy for our players," Williams said. "I think what's not quantifiable is the emotional break. All the things that get you going and the rhythm that you have to have an edge and a chance to win, it's hard to quantify.
"When does it stop when does it start back and we have to get it ramped back up to where we were before the break. As a coach, I'd always rather play."
The Golden Eagles will have to get ramped up to play two teams back-to-back that are at the bottom of the Big East standings. Providence is 10-9 overall and just 2-5 in the Big East, but the Friars are getting healthy and have played better of late.
Junior guard Bryce Cotton is the Big East's leading scorer at 21.9 points per game and also leads the conference in three-point makes. The Friars also feature one of the top assists guys in the conference in Vincent Council and have three of the top eight offensive rebounders in the league.
"I think they are really talented," Williams said. Their record does not indicate the struggles that they've had health wise. Kris Dunn has been hurt, Vincent Council has been hurt. I think they are really good and they pose a lot of problems to us because of their speed and their attacking style."
Led by Council, Cotton and Dunn, Providence has one of the best backcourts in the Big East. The Friars are particularly good at using the ball screen, something Marquette has worked on all week.
"I'm expecting for them to come into the Bradley Center looking to win," Marquette point guard Junior Cadougan said. "We just have to come and put our hard hats on and come ready to play. They have some good guards that can score and put it up. We just have to come with a focused mindset to defend."
Loving to fight: Marquette had its worst half of the season last Saturday in Cincinnati. The Golden Eagles scored just 13 points and making just five of its 28 shots.
Do that on the road, and a team is likely to get blown out.
However, the Golden Eagles fought back and scored 50 points in the second half to catch the Bearcats in regulation before eventually losing on a last second shot in overtime.
How can Marquette go from scoring 13 points in one 20 minute stretch to 50 in the next 20 minutes? Williams says his team didn't deserve to make those first half shots because the Golden Eagles weren't playing hard enough.
"I don't think you can say it was players or plays," Williams said. "We are running the same plays. I think it was how we were running those plays and how we were playing.
"We are not good enough to not play hard enough. We almost sneaked out of there but they deserved the right to win more so than we did. You can't play the last 25 minutes diametrically opposed to the first 20 minutes and expect to win against a good team."
Cadougan said his team didn't come out with the proper mindset. While his teammate Juan Anderson echoed those thoughts, he thinks the lesson learned from the first half struggles in Cincinnati will only be productive.
"We can't have lapses," Anderson said. "I think it is kind of good because we realize that we can't do that. It will help us along the way toward the end of the season."
While he hated the first half, Williams loved the fight his team showed in the second half. Marquette has shown all season long that it's going to take a real knockout punch to beat them.
"I've loved fighting with them in all 10 halves and extra 15 minutes that we've played." Williams said.
"I don't say that I've loved it because I won, I just love to fight and in a lot of ways I'm just an overpaid fighter.
"When we don't fight, we are not any good. That's not because of roster that's because of how we operate since we've been here."
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