Tipping Off The Big East Countdown: #5 MarquettePosted by Will Tucker on November 6th, 2012
Last year was Marquette’s most successful season since Dwayne Wade graced Milwaukee. The Golden Eagles finished second in the Big East for the first time ever, had a player named Big East Player of the Year for the first time since joining the league (Jae Crowder), and went to their second consecutive Sweet Sixteen. How will they rebound in 2012-13 after losing nearly half of their scoring and 12 rebounds per game in graduated seniors Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom? This question was magnified when we learned yesterday that Todd Mayo is academically ineligible and parked indefinitely on the bench. Mayo’s absence may have dropped Marquette in our predicted standings when our writers deliberated in October, but there’s no turning back now, and it’s hard to discount Buzz Williams’ coaching ability when he has any measure of talent to work with.
2011-12 Record: 27-8, 14-4
2011-12 Postseason: 2-1, Lost to Florida in the Sweet Sixteen
Marquette faces one of the toughest non-conference slates of any Big East team this year. The Golden Eagles open the season on November 9 against #4 Ohio State in the Carrier Classic in Charleston, South Carolina. They’ll get an opportunity cut their teeth in home games against Colgate and Southland Conference pushover Southeastern Louisiana before then heading to Maui on November 19 to face Butler. Potential meetings with #11 North Carolina, Texas, Illinois and Mississippi State loom should they take down the Bulldogs. The warm weather continues through the end of November, when Buzz Williams’ team travels to Gainesville to seek redemption against the Florida team that knocked it out in the Sweet Sixteen. A week later, Marquette hosts #23 Wisconsin at home to conclude the most unforgiving leg of the non-conference slate. Marquette’s Big East schedule is pretty daunting as well, with home-and-homes against Pitt and Georgetown and road contests against Louisville and Cincinnati. The Golden Eagles are granted some reprieve in avoiding Syracuse and Notre Dame on the road.
Our Big East season outlooks have thus far have discussed incoming and returning personnel before major roster losses. That format seems inappropriate for Marquette, with the most urgent storyline heading into this season being the losses of Darius Johnson-Odom (18.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.7 APG) and Jae Crowder (17.5 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 2.5 SPG). Over the summer, Buzz Williams likened Johnson-Odom and Crowder to “a really good drug for us,” and admitted “we became addicts to what they gave us every day.” The two seniors made a consistent and dramatic impact on both ends of the floor, acting as a pressure valve their teammates could usually turn to in the clutch. Their absence will require a more collaborative effort from the Golden Eagles’ remaining contributors this season, both in terms of scoring and applying Buzz Williams’ staunch man-to-man defense. It remains to be seen whether Todd Mayo belongs in this paragraph, but assuming he remains ineligible for the season, Buzz Williams is left two-deep at the shooting guard position. Marquette also loses transferred junior swingman Jamail Jones (8.5 MPG), whose former top-50 recruiting accolades never really materialized in Milwaukee.
In the wake of Mayo’s ineligibility, the addition of senior Arizona State transfer Trent Lockett becomes incalculably more valuable to the Golden Eagles’ backcourt. The 6’5″ shooting guard, who averaged 13 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per contest last season, will be expected to step in and immediately do his best Darius Johnson-Odom impression. Lockett had three prolific seasons at ASU, where he shot 50% from the field and played aggressive defense, so expect him to thrive in his new role. Joining him in the backcourt is 6’4″ junior guard Vander Blue (8.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG) and senior point guard Junior Cadougan (6.3 PPG, 5.4 APG). Cadougan’s yeoman-like effort and leadership won’t dazzle on a stat sheet, but will be essential to Marquette’s success. Expect him to increase his production now that he’s no longer splitting duties with Johnson-Odom. Last year 6’7″ junior Jamil Wilson (7.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG) showed huge improvements over his freshman campaign at Oregon, and Marquette fans expect him to help fill the large shoes left by Jae Crowder. Mercurial big man Davante Gardner (9.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG) is poised for a huge year in the post if he can stay healthy, and incoming 4-star wing Steve Taylor provides quality depth on the perimeter.
Whom to Watch
One statistic to keep an eye on is the dismal three-point shooting coming from Marquette’s backcourt, where Blue and Cadougan combined to shoot below 25% last season. Cadougan’s outside shot is unlikely to improve significantly, but Blue needs to be more efficient from outside if Marquette hopes to sustain last year’s offensive productivity. Todd Mayo scored more from beyond the arc (31 buckets) than any returning player, and in his absence Lockett will need to provide an immediate deep threat to keep opposing defenses honest. It remains to be seen whether Davante Gardner can play nearly twice as many minutes and remain healthy for an entire season. Senior Chris Otule (5 PPG, 4.4 RPG) is Gardner’s only proven backup, so Gardner’s health may affect Marquette’s ceiling. Nevertheless, Buzz Williams’ guard-heavy philosophy can still succeed without an impact center.
Ultimately, the keys to success for Marquette in 2012-13 will be steady leadership from Cadougan, efficiency from Blue and Lockett, and remaining healthy enough to overcome their depth issues at shooting guard and center. Marquette has overachieved with far less talent in the past, and the intriguing combination of talent and intangible assets at Buzz Williams’ disposal this year could very well form the foundation of a Big East contender, so long as a few uncertainties break their way.