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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Monday, January 30, 2017 at 12:23 PM

On the surface, Marquette basketball looks like a banal, middling program. They’re projected as an 8-seed in the NCAA Tournament by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. They’re 10-10-1 against the spread. That all screams “middle of the road.” But the path the Golden Eagles take to the middle of the road is unpredictable, with all the opportunities for moneymaking that chaos provides.

The events of the past nine days tell the story. Marquette went to Creighton as a (+6) dog and came home with a 102-94 outright upset. Last Tuesday, the Golden Eagles hosted #1-ranked Villanova and as a (+5) dog, pulled off the 74-72 outright win. With Las Vegas getting behind them, Marquette then hosted Providence this weekend, giving (-8)...and lost 79-78. How do you evaluate this basketball team?

There is a thread of consistency within the roller-coaster ride and properly using that is going to be the key ingredient to turning Marquette into a moneymaker. In simple terms, look at this team’s efficiency rankings. The Golden Eagles are a spiffy 8th in the country in offensive efficiency. They have six players that average in double figures. They can score in the low post with center Luke Fischer. They have a pure shooter in Katin Reinhardt. They have aggressive guards who can push the pace in Markus Howard and Andrew Rousey.

And none of the above are even Marquette’s best player, that honor belong to JaJuan Johnson, who averages 13 points/5 rebounds/3 assists per game. Johnson is one of three seniors that are part of head coach Steve Wojciechowski’s regular rotation, giving the Golden Eagles experience in a sport where such is often lacking.

Given those assets, should we be shocked that Marquette was able to shoot 60 percent at Creighton and drop triple-digits on what was then a Top 10 team? Should it be unthinkable that MU shot 50 percent against Villanova, with Reinhardt lighting it up from behind the arc, scoring 19 off the bench? Not at all.

Now let’s go to the flip side. Marquette ranks 158th in the country in defensive efficiency. They allowed Creighton to shoot 49 percent. In this weekend’s game with Providence, they again allowed 49 percent shooting, with the Friars connecting on an 11-for-20 from three-point range. If you have to consistently shoot 50-60 percent from the floor to win basketball games, you’re simply not going to maintain that pace and losing games outright as a home favorite can’t come as unexpected.

Marquette enters into an interesting stretch. Three of their next four games are on the road against inferior competition, with trips to St. John’s, DePaul and Georgetown. These are the kinds of games Marquette has to show they can effectively take care of business and deliver ATS winners if we’re to have consistent confidence in them.

If Marquette really does end up as a #8 or #9 seed in the NCAA Tournament, it’s going to be all the more crucial to have a good handle on their performance indicators by March. They’ll be the kind of team that can either go in the tank in the Round of 64 and disappoint backers—or they could pull a shocker against a 1-seed in the Round of 32. The time to watch carefully is now.  

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