There’s No “I” In Team, But There Is “Team” in MarquettePosted by Patrick Prendergast on January 23rd, 2012
Patrick Prendergast filed this report after Saturday’s Marquette-Providence game.
Typically when analyzing a team, one player surfaces as somebody that team cannot do without. I had the opportunity to cover the Marquette – Providence game on Saturday night and went in with the intention of confirming who fills that inexpendable role for the Golden Eagles. As the game went on and Marquette methodically pulled away from the Friars (ultimately coming away with a 79-72 win), it became more and more apparent that focusing on just one player would be doing Marquette a disservice. The thing that makes this Golden Eagles team go, and seemingly every Buzz Williams bunch, is how they function as a unit, putting the team over the individual. Please do not interpret this as a knock on Marquette’s talent. Sure, on paper they do not look big, especially without injured 6’11’ center Chris Otule. After Otule, the Golden Eagles top out at 6’8” and that is only with one player, sophomore Devante Gardner. Gardner checks in at 290 pounds, so maybe he’s worth two. Further, some may say on the surface Marquette does not appear all that deep. They have just three players averaging in double figures and one of them, Todd Mayo, is right at ten points per game. However, as we all know, looks can be deceiving. Marquette’s talent level is significant and it is vast. They spread the wealth well, with eight players averaging at least 19.7 minutes per game. Additionally, Williams plays as many as 10 players in meaningful situations during any given contest. He and his squad do not seem to care if anyone notices. In fact, as the wins continue to accumulate in the same fashion as the snow that fell in Providence Saturday, maybe they prefer it that way.
It’s Marquette’s versatility, basketball IQ and fundamental soundness that sets them apart. They play a fast, efficient brand and make their opponents adjust to them, rather than vice versa. Their two senior leaders, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, fittingly personify this. Johnson-Odom, affectionately known as “DJO,” is the team’s leading scorer (18.1 PPG). He does most of his damage from the perimeter, shooting the ball confidently with picture-perfect rotation even when he is bothered defensively. He’s the guy you draw it up for when you need a key bucket. However Johnson-Odom is not just some spot up shooter. At 6’2” and 215 pounds, he is built like an NFL safety and as such is not afraid to stick his nose in there, as evidenced by his 3.2 rebounds per game.
Then there is the omnipresent Crowder. Seemingly comfortable anywhere on the floor, Crowder has the uncanny ability to, as the situation requires, play bigger AND smaller than his 6’6”, 235-pound frame might dictate. There is not enough Elmers in the world just to call him a glue guy. Crowder does it all, and he does it well. He is the consummate stat sheet stuffer (16.3 PPG, 7.4 RPG, team-leading 2.2 SPG, 1.9 APG, 51.1% FG, 70.4% FT). A forward by trade, Crowder battles down low with bigger players and usually gets the best of them. Next thing you know, Crowder is out on the perimeter knocking down a long one. He is the team’s second-leading three-point shooter at 38.8%, just behind DJO (39.2%). That percentage is not inflated due to few attempts either — Crowder has taken 98 threes, also good for second on the team behind Johnson-Odom’s 107.
The Providence game Saturday represents a microcosm of what Marquette is all about. At the 13:16 mark of the second half, Johnson-Odom, who started the game on fire and had 16 points at the time, went out with his fourth foul and Marquette clinging to 54-53 lead. Faced with playing a long, key stretch on the road in an energetic building without its leading scorer, Marquette simply kept doing what they do, just with a different guy. Enter 6’7” sophomore forward Jamil Wilson. Coming into the game, Wilson, a transfer from Oregon, was averaging just 4.8 points and 3.2 rebounds in 19.3 minutes per game. Well, all he did after Johnson-Odom exited was score nine points over the next 5:08 to help stretch Marquette’s lead out to seven, and finish the game with career-highs in points (16) and rebounds (seven). If Wilson had not risen to the occasion, it is likely point guard Junior Cadougan (5.4 APG), who had 10 assists on Saturday night, would have found another hot hand, perhaps that of emerging freshman guard Todd Mayo (10.0 PPG), who is third on the team from three.
All in all, Buzz Williams would like to see his team get out of the gate a little faster. He also feels there is room for improvement defensively, but was encouraged by how his Golden Eagles closed out the Friars. “We spend an inordinate amount of time in practice on our defense,” Williams said after the game. “I think the last 13 minutes we were good defensively. Maybe our best all year.” With statements like that it is hard not to think Marquette is positioning itself to once again peak at the right time.