Here are three thoughts from No. 16 Marquette's 61-54 victory over No. 9 Wisconsin on Saturday in Madison:
1. Marquette might be the second-best team in the Big East. The Golden Eagles were picked sixth in the league's preseason coaches poll, and still lag well behind Syracuse, UConn and Louisville (and possibly even Pittsburgh) in national perception. Yet Marquette is playing as well as everyone but the Orange, and now has the biggest non-conference win of any Big East team -- over Wisconsin at the Kohl Center, where no visitor had won since Feb. 9, 2010.
Consider what the Golden Eagles overcame to win on Saturday, beyond the whole curse-of-the-Kohl-Center thing: Their best all-around player, forward Jae Crowder, who came in averaging 19.3 points per game, was saddled with foul trouble and only scored one field goal and zero free throws in 24 minutes. Their starting point guard, Junior Cadougan, was suspended the morning of the game for an undisclosed violation of team rules; he'd been averaging 26.2 minutes and 6.3 assists per game, and they don't have a natural backup at the position. Oh, and they were playing against a top-five KenPom team with an All-America candidate at point guard.
It sounded like a recipe for a blowout win by Wisconsin ... yet Marquette won by seven. It scored 0.953 points per possession, which meant its offense fared nearly as well on the road against the Badgers than North Carolina did at home (0.990 PPP).
This is the best team Buzz Williams has assembled in his four years as the Golden Eagles' head coach -- a surprise, since they lost their top player from last year, Jimmy Butler, to the NBA Draft -- and it has the personnel to make a deep NCAA tournament run. Here's the biggest reason why:
2. The Golden Eagles didn't have point guards or shooting guards on the floor -- they had attacking guards. John Calipari's Kentucky team won the game everyone was talking about on Saturday, and his Wildcats will (rightfully) remain No. 1 next week, but even the Dribble-Drive practitioner's guards didn't do as much attacking off the bounce as Marquette's Darius Johnson-Odom (17 points), Todd Mayo (14) and Vander Blue (9) did against the Badgers. Only eight of the trio's 44 combined shots came from beyond the arc, and they were relentless in taking the ball at UW's Jordan Taylor, Josh Gasser, Ben Brust and Ryan Evans.
Johnson-Odom, who's so strong and explosive at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds that it's nearly impossible to keep him from creating space in the lane, is a known commodity. But Mayo, a freshman reserve who's O.J.'s little brother and had previously been doing most of his work in mop-up duty, had a coming-out party of sorts with 14 points and just one turnover in 24 minutes. (Williams likes using three-guard lineups, and when Cadougan is back in the mix, they'll only get scarier.) Marquette also did an excellent job cleaning up for its guards' short-range misses, grabbing 37.2 percent of offensive boards against a Wisconsin team that had only been allowing 19.9 percent coming into the game.
3. Something seems a bit off with Taylor, who was absurdly efficient as a junior (127.7 ORating, 3.8-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio) and deserved his spot on All-America first teams this preseason. He was mired in foul trouble against the Golden Eagles, but still was on the court for 30 minutes, and delivered a clunker by Taylor standards: just two assists against five turnovers, and 13 points in a game he needed to take over if the Badgers were going to win. It was the first time in Taylor's college career he'd turned the ball over five times -- that's how careful he normally is with the ball.
Early this season, I thought Taylor was being deferential in order to bring along the new, prominent members of UW's rotation (particularly Brust and Jared Berggren), but through eight games, it's hard to ignore that Taylor's usage, efficiency, three-point percentage, free-throw percentage and free-throw rate (and to a lesser degree, his A/T ratio) are all down. Last season, he was a killer in isolation plays; according to Synergy Sports Technology, isos accounted for 30.5 percent of his possessions, and he averaged 1.023 points on those possessions. This season, with him lacking a great pick-and-pop target like Keaton Nankivil or Jon Leuer (who both graduated), Taylor has relied even more on isos, with them jumping to 35.5 percent of his arsenal, but he's scoring just 0.636 points on those possessions. Taylor has always been regarded as more crafty than quick, but is he missing the burst he needs to get good looks in those situations?
The July ankle surgery that required Taylor to pull out of the U.S. trials for the World University Games hasn't been talked about much -- it was said to be "minor," or just a maintenance procedure -- but it's possible he needs more time to get into peak form. The full Taylor is the nation's best point guard. That wasn't the version of him we saw on Saturday.