Buzz Williams wants to see what his Golden Eagles are made of
NOV 15, 2013 8:43a ET
MILWAUKEE -- There’s a hallway in Buzz Williams’ house where he hangs team photos and other memorable images from every team he’s been a part of since his high school days.
One year after watching their highly anticipated matchup with the Buckeyes get canceled due to condensation on the ship’s court, the Golden Eagles will host Ohio State on Saturday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
The home-and-home series between the two schools was already on the docket before the Carrier Classic was called off, and, though not on an aircraft carrier, this year’s game has just as much hype.
"Ohio State is good enough to win a national championship," Williams said. “We’ve studied them since the summer. They will pose and put a lot of pressure on us in many ways from the opening tip.”
Ohio State is the first non-conference opponent to visit Marquette while ranked in the top 10 since Kansas came to the Bradley Center ranked fifth and won 85-61 on Jan. 28, 1992.
The Golden Eagles haven’t beat a top 10 team at home since 2011 and haven’t beat a non-conference team ranked in the top 10 at home since defeating No. 5 Notre Dame in 1980. A win Saturday would not only extend Marquette’s home streak to 28 games, but would give the Golden Eagles a marquee win right off the bat.
“If you study the numbers of coach (Thad) Matta during his time at Ohio State, you can say anytime you can play them it’s probably going to help you as far as your RPI is concerned,” Williams said. “I think they’ve won 72 percent of their Big Ten games, 77 percent of his games as a head coach.
“Those are staggering numbers. You can stack what they’ve accomplished up against anybody in the country.”
Much like Marquette, Ohio State returns the vast majority of its roster but must replace its leading scorer from last year’s Elite Eight run. Both the Golden Eagles and Buckeyes could have had their top scorers back, but Vander Blue and Deshaun Thomas left school early only to go undrafted.
Ohio State leaned on Thomas and his 19.8 points per game quite a bit last season, as point guard Aaron Craft was its only other player to average double figures in points. Many consider the Buckeyes a national title contender if they can fill the scoring void left by Thomas.
In early season wins over Morgan State and Ohio, the Buckeyes have been a balanced scoring team. Led by senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. at 13.5 points per game, five players average more than 11 points per game.
“They play with four perimeter players at all times and put a great amount of stress on you in how they play,” Williams said. “They always are going to have four guys on the floor that can shoot. They run a lot of ball screens, kind of similar to what Butler was doing last year.”
Setting the tone on both ends of the floor is Craft, a preseason All-American by numerous publications. Craft is one of the peskiest defenders in the country and is an excellent game manager on the offensive end.
Craft and Shannon Scott will challenge Marquette’s unproven backcourt, as point guard Derrick Wilson must withstand the ball pressure and limit turnovers if the Golden Eagles are going to win. Marquette certainly holds the advantage inside with Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson and Chris Otule, but the game could be decided by how their backcourt handles the pressure.
“He just badgers the hell out of you defensively, sometimes when you have the ball, sometimes when you don’t have the ball,” Williams said of Craft. “He’s almost like a magnet to the ball. Those other four guys kind of understand how to play off of him. He’s worthy of the acclaim that he’s received.”
While Ohio State has its rotation down to eight or nine, Marquette has used 11 different players for extended minutes in its first two games. November and December are usually used to narrow down the rotation for February and March, but it’s hard to tinker with things and come out victorious against a team like the Buckeyes.
Williams recognizes he has to find the balance in trying to pick up a big win while still trying to figure out what mix of players is going to give Marquette its best chance going forward.
“The value of a possession is going to increase, but at the same time from a wisdom standpoint, we have to have a little bit of balance to know we aren’t playing for a national championship today,” Williams said. “We do need to get to the point where in February we better understand who guys are.
“When the dealer calls the bet and you have to show your hand, I just want to know what’s in your hand. Is what is in your hand against Grambling what is in your hand today when we practice, and is that what is in your hand when we play Ohio State?”
Going from playing a team on a 30-game losing streak to playing one of the best teams in the nation is a tremendous leap in a four-day span, but Marquette isn’t changing its approach.
“We’ve prepared for this game the same way we prepared for Grambling and Southern,” Otule said. “We have a lot that we need to work on in practice, and we’re just looking forward to this game as an opportunity to improve.
“As a player you want to play the best teams. They are a ranked team, and this will be a good test for us. We’re excited for the opportunity.”
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