The Marquette Golden Eagles, led by Jimmy Butler, manhandled the Centenary Gents 85-62 last Friday and walked away with a win in the opening game of the season. The win came without the help of the big three who graduated last year and left Marquette with only one of their starters from last year and little chance of being a legitimate Big East contender. Okay, so it was Centenary, a school with less than two thousand students and a team that had lost its two best players from transfers. And yes, it is a school that is starting a transition from a Division I school all the way down to Division III. I get all that and yet I am still impressed by Marquette’s performance Friday night.
There are three big reasons why I loved Friday’s game, the first and foremost being that MU basketball has officially kicked off. Another reason is that Jimmy Butler was able to take the team on his shoulders and slice the Gents’ D for a career high 27 points and that is not even mentioning his 13 boards. This is huge because it shows Buzz and the rest of MU nation that all the pressure may not have to be placed on Lazar Hayward. Butler is apparently ready to help in the role of the team’s star player. In fact, we could be looking at a dynamic duo, something that was not expected earlier in the year. Seeing If Butler can continue to light up the score board like that he may be able to fly under the radar up until Big East play. That is because teams are still going to be expecting the same player that averaged only 5.6 points a game last year. Yes truth be told we must realize that we were not playing the most defensively gifted team, but still 27 points is 27 points. From the looks of it he is going to be a threat to put up a double-double every night. However, it obviously was not just Butler playing out there and the entire team looked sharp and was able to avoid an early roadblock against Centenary.
Conveniently that leads to the third reason why Friday left me feeling pretty good about our squad this year. The fact that we beat the Gents soundly is a good sign because in the past Marquette has let lesser teams hang around in games, provided those teams survive the opening minutes. I know what you might be saying, Centenary was leading at one point with nine minutes left in the first, how is that a good sign? Well here’s how, we were able to overcome a slight surge by the Gents (10 point run) and soundly put them away for the rest of the game. I for one found this to be a good sign because there is nothing worse than being in the spot Mississippi St. is in and lose the home opener. That is not even considering the fact that it was a loss to a team that was supposed to increase the post season résumé. This win is important considering the fact that Marquette is going to need every win it can get its hands on if the NCAA tournament is going to be a legitimate goal. Plus, Marquette has had a past of letting lesser opponents hang around, and let a fluff game become an early nail biter that no fan wants to see at home in November.
It was hard to tell whether or not Friday was a good example of what we will be looking at in the coming games. Buzz used a lot of guys and gave everyone decent minutes and if anyone remembers last year, a deep bench is not really Buzz’s style. Eight players saw more than fifteen minutes of playing time on Friday and that should tell us that he is trying to get everyone as much playing time as possible. However, the fact that Acker saw less than half the game is a little concerning considering he became a team saving replacement ball-handler once James went down last year. Whether he sat out because Cubillan has gotten that much better or he does not need the minutes as much is still yet to be seen but it is something to keep your eye out for over the next couple games. Dwight Buycks looked good in his MU debut and looks ready to handle the role of being a starter in his first year in D-I. There are still questions that Marquette needs to answer such as who will be getting the majority of the playing time, but that is going to be addressed over the next couple games.
With a few more games against teams from small conferences, it is going to be important for Marquette to ready themselves for a much tougher stretch of games. The next couple of weeks are going to be strong indicators as to how this team of new faces can handles a tough field in the Old Spice Classic. However, we can worry about that when the times comes. For now let us enjoy a sound start and hope the strong play continues. Plus MD-Eastern Shore and Grambling St. should be fun blow-outs to watch, so stop by the Bradley Center to cheer on our team.