Marquette Golden Eagles (Last Year: 19-15, 9-9 in Big East)
2011-12 Projected Depth Chart:
C: Chris Otule (Jr)/Davante Gardner (So)
F: Jae Crowder (Sr)/Juan Anderson (Fr)
G/F: Vander Blue (So) or Jamil Wilson (So)/Jamail Jones (So)
SG: Daruis Johnson-Odom (Sr)/Todd Mayo (Fr)
PG: Junior Cadougan (Jr)/Derrick Wilson (Fr)
Gone: F Jimmy Butler, G Dwight Buycks, PF-Joe Fulce, PG-Reggie Smith (transfer-UNLV), PF-Erik Williams (transfer-Sam Houston State)
WARNING: As a Marquette alum and obsessive Golden Eagles basketball fan, this is going to take my lengthy, in-depth, nerdy previews to a whole new level. If I were you, I would clear out ten minutes of your schedule before beginning to read this.
Before I forecast what lies ahead, allow me to take a brief look back at 2010-11. Marquette's season depends on how you gauge a team's level of success. A .500 Big East record and disappointing non-conference performance in which the Golden Eagles didn't win one of their marquee matchups, the regular season was a major disappointment. In all honesty, they were fortunate that the bubble was so weak last year allowing them to even get into the NCAA Tournament.
The Big Dance was a different result. As an No. 11 seed, Marquette upset Xavier in their opening round matchup and then beat Syracuse to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since their Final Four run in 2003. In what was a terrible matchup for the Golden Eagles, UNC absolutely ran them out of the gym to end their tourney run. Still, it has become apparent that under Buzz Williams, Marquette can hang with just about any team in the country due to their aggressiveness on the defensive end and the way they value each possession on offense.
The Golden Eagles lose 1.5 starters from last year's Sweet-16 team. (I say 1.5 because technically Erik Williams started but it really doesn't count since he would maybe play the first three minutes of each half and then sit the rest of the game.) Jimmy Butler's leadership and versatility will especially be difficult to replace since he did just above everything for Marquette; playing multiple positions and guarding everyone from the biggest players in the conference to point guards like Kemba Walker.
Second-team All-Big East member Darius Johnson-Odom was the team's leading scorer a year ago and even more is expected of the 6-foot-2 shooting guard this year. In his first year with the Golden Eagles, Johnson-Odom connected on a stifling 47.4% from distance but struggled finding that consistency with his three-point shot a year ago. If he can find a happy medium and cutback of his streaky shooting, the lefty could approach a 20-points-per-night scoring clip since he is a multi-talented threat with his ability to get to the rim and score in transition. Johnson-Odom needs to become more reliable on the defensive end, and he drives me up a wall when he puts his head down and tries to take a defense 1-on-3 off the bounce. DRIVES ME UP A WALL!
Junior Cadougan will join Johnson-Odom in the starting backcourt. The Toronto native is a natural floor leader and will take over the full-time ball-handling duties due to the graduation of Dwight Buycks who saw his fair amount of time at the one. Besides being a true point guard, a switch seemed to flip on late last season as Cadougan gained the confidence to be more aggressive in attacking the basket. He is not yet a threat from the perimeter and also needs to continue to work on his defense, especially since he will draw the responsibility of matching up against some extremely quick opponents, but I feel very comfortable with him fully taking over as the point guard; a thought that would have terrified me at this point last year.
Sophomore Vander Blue figures to compete for a starting spot on the wing and hopes to rebound after an incredibly disappointing freshman campaign. He played well in the non-conference but seemed to lose all of his confidence once Big East play rolled around. Blue still brought a spark on the defensive end but ended up being a liability on offense. His jump shot was broken, and he lacked the assertiveness and explosiveness that made him such a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school. If Blue doesn't earn a starting spot, he will be an integral component to Marquette's bench. Expect him to enter this season with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove.
Freshmen Derrick Wilson and Todd Mayo, the younger brother of O.J., will also try to work themselves into the rotation at guard. Wilson figures to be Cadougan's backup at the point and is a hard-nosed, physical player who fits perfectly into Buzz's style of play. Mayo will provide a scoring punch off the bench if he can show the dedication needed on the defensive end to earn playing time.
Oregon transfer Jamil Wilson, Jamail Jones, and Juan Anderson are all "switchables" who Buzz loves having on his roster. Wilson sat out last season but is expected to make a major impact from the opening tip and could win a starting spot. He is an inside/outside threat who excels in the open floor and could cause problems defensively and on the glass due to his length. He still needs to add some strength and is probably the biggest x-factor for the Golden Eagles this season.
Jones struggled to acclimate himself to the college game as a freshman, often looking lost on the floor in the limited minutes he saw last season. He has good size and athleticism for a wing and is a capable outside shooter. Showing a better understanding of the defensive philosophies will be his best chance of earning a steady role off the bench this season.
Besides having one of the sweetest Twitter handles out there (juanonjuan10), I am anxious to see what Juan Anderson brings to the table. He has the potential to be an impact freshman due to his versatility and all-around ability on the court. Again, how quickly he picks up the defensive principles and proves to Buzz that he can be an asset on that end of the floor will determine his playing time as a freshman. Going out on a bit of a limb, I think he will end up being a very special player for Marquette down the road.
Jae Crowder made his presence felt last season after transferring in from a junior college and will be counted on even more this season, likely serving as the second banana to Johnson-Odom. Crowder plays with a ton of heart and will be the emotional leader of this year's Golden Eagles. At 6-foot-6, he doesn't possess the ideal size for a power forward and lacks explosiveness around the rim, but makes up for his shortcomings with his physicality, pure effort, and feel for the game. His ability to stretch defenses with his outside shooting is also a major weapon. Crowder played starter minutes but was ultimately the team's sixth man a year ago because he too frequently found himself in foul trouble when in the starting lineup, something he must avoid this season.
For the first time in a long time, Marquette actually had a tandem of inside players on the block. Chris Otule continued to progress and was a rim protector on the defensive end averaging more than 1.5 blocks per game. He is still limited on the offensive end to within five feet of the hoop and has stone hands, but showed a knack for grabbing offensive boards and getting easy putbacks. If the rec-spec rocker maintains his development, he should be an even bigger threat in the paint this year.
The Yin to Otule's Yang is sophomore big man Davante Gardner. The 6-foot-8, 290 pounder was a pleasant surprise last season, using his big body and soft touch around the rim to add a needed spark on occasion by averaging 4.6 points in just nine minutes per game. Unlike Otule, Gardner is pretty much a non-factor on the defensive end due to a lack of lateral quickness and practically negative vertical. I also absolutely despise his poor body language and lack of emotion on the floor, but I'll get over it if he can become an even more consistent back-to-basket option.
With 11 scholarship players, the Golden Eagles don't have a ton of depth so an injury or two could prove to be costly. However, as long as Buzz Williams is running the show, Marquette will play as hard as any team in the nation which will give them a chance to win every night. They enter the season a notch below UConn, Syracuse, Pitt, and Louisville in the Big East, but remember that last year was the first time since their arrival in the conference that the Golden Eagles finished lower than fifth place and without a winning league record.
Because of their tourney run last March, the expectations are heightened this season. In my opinion, anything less than a return trip to the Sweet 16 will be considered a disappointment. If Cadougan can pick up where he left off at the end of last season, Johnson-Odom is a more consistent scorer, and Blue and/or Wilson live up to their hype; their ceiling could be even higher. (I know that's a lot of if's but I'm a glass half-full sort of guy.)
Player to Watch: Jamil Wilson, F
As I stated earlier, Wilson is the X-factor for Marquette this season. Johnson-Odom and Crowder will be the go-to players and Wilson is the most likely to emerge as a solid, third scoring option. That will tremendously help the balance of their offense especially since he can score in a variety of ways. I would be foolish to think he can replace what Butler brought to the floor last season, but if Wilson can provide even half of the versatility that Butler did, he will have a very bright future as a Golden Eagle.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/19 vs. Ole Miss/Drake (Paradise Jam)
11/21 vs. Virginia/TCU/Drexel/Norfolk State (Paradise Jam)