Marquette Dancing With Who They Brought

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on February 14th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference and a regular contributor. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

This could not be the team Buzz Williams envisioned would play this season as the 2012-13 wound down last April. That team had a backcourt rotation that included All-Conference First Team guard Vander Blue, junior Todd Mayo, a solid backup point guard in junior Derrick Wilson and a pair of promising freshmen, Duane Wilson and JaJuan Johnson, who would be allowed to ease into the system as they logged a minute here and there. Redshirt senior Jake Thomas and freshman John Dawson would hold down the end of the bench and wait. The always important wing and front court spots would go to a rotation of junior Jamil Wilson, All-American JuCo Jameel McKay, sophomore Steve Taylor (rehabbing from off season surgery) and junior Juan Anderson (who explored a transfer before returning to the team in late April).

Does Buzz Have Full Control of His Program Now? (AP)

Buzz Williams knows his team still has a long way to go to secure a bid to the Big Dance. (AP)

Freshman tweener Deonte Burton, a typical Williams recruit who could log minutes anywhere between off guard and power forward, would have to pick up scrap minutes and wait for his time. The low post would be anchored by Davante Gardner and Chris Otule. Either one of whom — possibly both — would be All-Conference Teamers (Gardner on offense, Otule on defense). Although Williams typically runs 10 (or more) players through each game, last April anyway, it appeared that he would have 13 talented players to mix and match for any given game and opponent.It started with Vander Blue’s announcement that he would enter the NBA Draft, and player-by-player, month-by-month, Williams’ team-of-April melted to the patched-together rotation he used in Tuesday night’s 77-66 win over Seton Hall. Jameel McKay left the program just before the start of fall practice. Steve Taylor’s rehabilitation drags on as the 6′ 7″, 235 forward/center is only occasionally effective. The roster shuffle promoted freshman Duane Wilson to back up point guard — until a stress fracture sidelined him before exhibition play. Six day-to-day weeks later the staff threw in the towel and announced he would redshirt this season. Nine different players have made the starting lineup . “The rotation thus far for us has been whoever is producing,” replied Buzz Williams to a question about the nagging lack of offensive production he gets from his roster.

Of the veterans on last April’s roster, only Gardner and Otule have given Williams consistent production. “Those two guys, combined for 40 minutes, are pretty good,” Williams said. “I don’t think that’s been our issue, that hasn’t been our issue.” Jamil Wilson (“the best game Jamil has played since he has been here. Period. Period. He started good, which helps our team”), Todd Mayo (“I just try to keep Todd in his lane — and I mean that in a positive way — because when he is in his lane he’s pretty good”), forward Juan Anderson, wing Jake Thomas and point guard Derrick Wilson have lacked the consistency necessary to piece together a winning streak longer than two games all season. With a hint of frustration, Williams observed that, “there hasn’t been any consistency. That’s why we’ve been win-one-lose-one, win-one-lose-one.”

The roster turmoil has forced Williams to promote the two least heralded freshman from this year’s four-man class. An undersized, 6’4″ version of Jae Crowder, St. Vincent HS graduate Deonte Burton, has appeared in all of the Golden Eagles’ games, starting twice while averaging 13 minutes per game. “Deonte played some critical minutes. We were down and coming out of a timeout he makes both free throws to put it back to 56-56,” Williams said of Burton’s contribution to Marquette’s win, adding later that, “I told Deonte on the bus coming over here that you understand that it is not just talent that wins, it is more than talent, and he is starting to figure that out.” As for Dawson, “John gave us more minutes because of Derrick’s foul trouble. John can’t turn the ball over at the rate that he turned the ball over. I like the character of both of them. Both of them are learning to work.”

At 14-10 Marquette’s best chance for a bid will come in the Big East Tournament next month, because securing an at-large before the tournament would require the Golden Eagles to go 5-2 to finish 11-7 in conference play.” After reviewing their remaining games Williams shook his head. “It will be incredibly hard,” he said. “All this (winning at Seton Hall) does is allow us to live to fight another day.”

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