Marquette Golden Eagles (Last Year: 27-8, 14-4 in Big East)
2012-13 Projected Depth Chart:
C: Chris Otule (Sr)/Davante Gardner (Jr)
F: Jamil Wilson (Jr)/Steve Taylor (Fr)
G/F: Trent Lockett (Sr)/Juan Anderson (So)/Jamal Ferguson (Fr)
SG: Vander Blue (Jr)/Jake Thomas (Jr)/Todd Mayo (So)
PG: Junior Cadougan (Sr)/Derrick Wilson (So)
Gone: SG-Daruis Johnson-Odom, F-Jae Crowder, G/F-Jamail Jones (transfer-Florida Gulf Coast)
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 10 minutes of your schedule before beginning to read this.
With back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances, Buzz Williams has certainly developed a culture at Marquette in which the team will play as hard as any in the country, get out on run as much as possible, and get up in your face defensively. Regardless of the names on the back of the jerseys, that's been the recipe for success for the Golden Eagles and don't expect that to change this season.
The obvious storyline will be how the team replaces the invaluable duo of Big East Player of the Year, Jae Crowder, and fellow First Team All-Conference selection Darius Johnson-Odom. That duo averaged nearly 36 points per night and leaves Marquette without a double-digit scorer from last year's team that finished in second place in the Big East.
The exception to that statement is Arizona State transfer Trent Lockett, who was given a waiver by the NCAA, meaning he is immediately eligible to play his senior year and won't have to sit out this season which is the norm in most transfer situations. Lockett has put together back-to-back solid seasons with the Sun Devils, averaging at least 13 points a game, but because they has struggled mightily as a team, his quality production has gone rather unnoticed. I can't stress how crucial this "free agent pickup" was for Marquette since Lockett is a proven scorer and capable of carrying the responsibility of being the go-to offensive option.
Vander Blue will join Lockett on the starting wing. The highly touted recruit from Madison Memorial High School has been a solid enough role player the past two seasons, but his shooting woes have really limited his contributions on the offensive end turning him into a one-dimensional threat. Blue is at his best in transition due to his outstanding athleticism, but I'd like to see him become more assertive at the rim when attacking in the halfcourt rather than flipping up some sort of soft finger roll that he too often tends to do. Blue is also the team's top perimeter defender and will likely take on the responsibility of guarding the opponent's best offensive weapon.
Depth on the wing wasn't supposed to be an issue, but with JUCO transfer T.J. Taylor deciding to follow former assistant coach Tony Benford to North Texas and the recent ruling that Todd Mayo has been ruled academically ineligible; suddenly that is a major concern. Mayo was sent home by Buzz this summer as the pair worked on their relationship, which has been described as shaky at best. Those matters had apparently been ironed out, but now the academics become an issue, stripping the Golden Eagles of a dangerous bench scorer.
That leaves Juan Anderson, South Dakota transfer Jake Thomas, and true freshman Jamal Ferguson as the options to back up Lockett and Blue. Anderson battled nagging injuries last season and underwent offseason shoulder surgery this summer. When he was healthy, Anderson just seemed as if the game was moving faster than his mind. He did bring solid energy to the floor, and with a full year of experience under his belt, he should have a better feel for what to do on both ends of the floor. Getting more minutes at his more natural small forward position should help as well considering he had to play out of position at the four at times as a freshman.
Thomas is a Racine native known as a three-point gunner, but he proved to have some jump in his step as well by winning the Marquette Madness slam dunk contest. His role suddenly becomes much more prominent than expected as does Ferguson's. The 6-4 wing is versatile enough, which Buzz loves from his players, but I think expecting anything more him bringing solid energy to the floor during his spot minutes would be asking for too much.
Luckily for the Golden Eagles, they can turn to a veteran floor general to bring poise and experience to the point guard position. Junior Cadougan isn't going to light up the scoreboard, but has done an exceptional job in understanding when to push tempo and when to settle the offense into its' halfcourt sets.
I still do the classic coaching move of "Nooooooo... YES!" anytime he actually knocks down a three-pointer and would prefer seeing him be more aggressive in taking the ball to the tin. A lack of athleticism and quickness on the defensive end tends to get him into foul trouble as well against speedy point guards, which is where the famous Buzz offense/defense substitutions ran rampant last year with Derrick Wilson.
Wilson was used primarily as a defensive replacement for Cadougan. In fact, Wilson played 292 minutes as a freshman yet only attempted 16 shots, which is actually a good thing since he is not a very talented scorer. Wilson's role shouldn't change much this year. He'll get reps on the defensive end, where his toughness is a valuable asset, but unless he has made massive strides on the offensive end, I don't want to see him running the point with the ball in his hands unless it is during garbage time.
Needing to help replace the production of Crowder at forward will be Jamil Wilson. The former Oregon transfer steadily improved as last season progressed, showing glimpses of why he was a top-100 recruit coming out Racine Horlick High School. His length serves him well as a shot-blocker and rebounder, and he also has the athleticism to finish explosively at the rim while running the floor incredibly well.
Wilson possesses a solid 15-foot jumper with range out to the three-point line. If he can show even more consistency in that area, it will allow him to flourish as a junior. The team having two quality bigs will also afford him the opportunity to play more of his natural position at power forward, which should allow him to settle into one spot considering he had to log plenty of minutes at center last season.
Top-100 recruit Steve Taylor is another "switchable"-type forward who can play either the three or four. He has a nice touch on his jump shot but also plays extremely hard and isn't afraid to mix it up on the boards. If Taylor can give Marquee 10-15 solid minutes a night, it will certainly help the cause immensely by allowing Buzz to use a bigger, longer lineup at times, which hasn't really been an option the past two seasons.
In Chris Otule and Devante Gardner, Marquette has its best one-two punch at center in quite some time - assuming Otule can actually stay healthy. His season has ended prematurely due to injury in three of his four seasons with the Golden Eagles. When healthy, Otule brings a defensive presence with his ability to block shots and crash the glass. He is rather limited on the offensive end, and I'll cringe anytime he shoots the ball outside of five feet from the rim.
Gardner on the other hand is a talented scorer on the block. His Twitter handle is "iGetBuckets_54" and for good reason. He knows how to use his big body, quick feet, soft hands, and variety of back to the basket moves to score inside. Plus, he is good for about three "and one's" per game and will scream it out when they happen to let everybody know. The big fella is still a liability on the defensive end, specifically when having to hedge on high-ball screens due to a lack of lateral quickness. Conditioning is always a concern too because of his size, but if Otule can stay healthy, the duo should complement each other extremely well.
With a top-10 ranked 2013 recruiting class boasting top-50 prospects Duane Wilson, Deonte Burton, and Jajuan Johnson, along with one of the top JUCO recruits in Jameel McKay; it is hard not get excited about the future of Marquette basketball even though the Big East Conference is in a bit of flux.
Don't overlook this season though even if there are a few key losses. If the Golden Eagles can "be us" as Buzz likes to say, they'll compete with every last ounce of energy and leave everything on the floor. I said this last year and received some flack for doing so, but I'm going to say it again: anything less than a third straight trip to the Sweet 16 will be viewed as a disappointment.
Player to Watch: Trent Lockett, G/F
Three years ago it was Lazar Hayward, Jimmy Butler two seasons ago, and last year the DJO/Crowder duo. Somebody has emerged as the true leader/go-to option for Buzz Williams each season, and Lockett is the most capable to do that in 2012. Finding balanced scoring will be an essential piece of Marquette's success this year, but Lockett must be the guy to knock down big shots in crucial moments. Don't be surprised if he makes a real name for himself this season and suddenly becomes a name that pops up in most NBA Mock Drafts (he's already in mine, check it out.)
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/9 vs. Ohio State (on USS Yorktown)
11/19 vs. Butler (Maui Invitational)
11/2o vs. North Carolina/Mississippi State (Maui Invitational)
11/21 vs. Texas/Chaminade/llinois/USC (Maui Invitational)