Are Marquette’s Two Least Utilized Players Keys to Turning the Corner?Posted by George Hershey on January 25th, 2014
Most fans around the country know Marquette’s senior frontcourt of Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson and Chris Otule as they have played in three straight Sweet Sixteens over the last three seasons. This year the Golden Eagles have not lived up to preseason expectations in large part because of a lack of production from their guards — point guard Derrick Wilson, in particular, is averaging only five points per game despite playing starter’s minutes. Wilson is known for his defense and low number of turnovers, but defenses can sag off of him because he rarely attempts a shot outside the paint. This causes the middle to get clogged and hurts the frontcourt’s ability to score in the post.
All season long, the team has been looking for a spark to get the offense going. There had been some good spurts that showed promise, but time after time, Marquette returned to its inability to shoot and long scoring droughts. In Monday night’s win over Georgetown, two players who had barely played all season were the reason that the Golden Eagles kept their hopes of an eight straight tournament berth on life support. With the highly touted freshman Duane Wilson redshirting this season, the point guard position has looked bleak for Marquette. With Williams putting his trust in Wilson, it did not seem that he would look to his backup, freshman John Dawson, for much playing time. He had averaged just over five minutes in conference play so far and most pundits and fans seemed to think he was a project and four-year backup (the New Mexico native had not had as much exposure in high school and recruiting services did not rank him highly).
Williams turned to Dawson Monday after the offense continued to sputter with Wilson at the point. Dawson went out and played a tremendous game. In his 31 minutes Wilson scored 12 points, assisted on four baskets, pulled down two rebounds, and only had one turnover. He scored five points in the first two minutes of overtime to help Marquette pull away from the Hoyas. The biggest difference between the two point guards is that Dawson is not afraid to take shots and he looks to score. He took seven shots, four from three, and used a nice touch to hit a couple mid range jumpers. Dawson’s shooting ability has more meaning than just a few points here and there. Defenses have to play up on Dawson and stay honest, knowing that he can hit shots. This opens up the middle for the big men to operate and creates better spacing on the floor. Shooters like Jake Thomas and Todd Mayo will be able to find more open shots from the perimeter when Davante Gardner and Chris Otule are able to catch the ball and go to work in the post, forcing help from the wings. Marquette shot 41.2% from three, 11 points above the team average.
The other player, who had arguably the best all around game for the Golden Eagles, was Steve Taylor Jr. The former teammate of Jabari Parker at Simeon High School had barely played in the past two months, only getting on the court in three of the past 10 games. Taylor Jr. had knee surgery in the offseason and had issues recovering. In his limited time early in the season, he failed to make an impact as he looked clueless on the defensive side and was a major liability when he was in. After dropping 16 points against Grambling St. in the second game of the season, Taylor Jr. scored three points in the next sixteen games. He entered late in the first half of Monday’s game and immediately made his presence felt by hitting two jumpers. He continued to work hard all night and finished with 14 points and eight rebounds in 23 minutes. Taylor Jr. played well working from the free throw line, hitting several mid range shots, as well as on the baseline, where he attacked the basket and got some layups. Taylor Jr. brings a different skillset to the floor as he is very long, but a solid shooter and has a great motor to rebound. He also helps spread the floor and is a great fit playing alongside Gardner. He also is much quicker than Gardner and Otule on the defensive end, helping hedge on ball screens, as well as contesting shots at the rim. He was very aggressive and looked to score with confidence, leading to free throws.
The big question is whether Marquette will finally turn the corner. After losing their three primary ball handlers from last season, it was going to be difficult to replicate last year’s success. Williams has been known to adapt every year to the players he has, instead of having a system like rival Bo Ryan. This year’s team has experience, leadership and plenty of talent, but their hasn’t been the balance and intangibles that made the team successful in the past. Dawson and Taylor Jr. are exactly what this team needs and will turn this team into a Big East contender. There individual play will not make the difference as they have barely played this year and the Georgetown game is a small sample size, but the difference they make is that they bring out the best in their teammates. Just like Vander Blue’s scoring mindset took the pressure off Jamil Wilson and allowed him to pick his spots, Dawson and Taylor Jr. will open the floor for Gardner, Otule, Mayo, Wilson, and Thomas to do what they do best and make the team better. If Dawson and Taylor Jr. see about 20 minutes each game, the team will be significantly stronger on the offensive end and much more balanced. Although both players are young, they need playing time and patience to grow, because they are the present and future of the team.