Friday, October 14, 2011

Inside The Big East: Marquette

Described as a "hoops savant" by coach Buzz Williams, Darius Johnson-Odom will fly to new heights for Marquette this season. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

Bob Huggins and his alma mater of West Virginia had the spotlight yesterday, and next up is the unlikely Sweet 16 participant from the Big East a year ago.

Marquette Golden Eagles (2010-11 Record: 22-15, 9-9 Big East)
Head Coach: Buzz Williams (4th season at MU, 69-37; 83-54 overall)
Returning Starters: G Darius Johnson-Odom (6-2 Sr., 15.8 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 43% FG, 36% 3pt, 71% FT, 2.4 APG)
F Jae Crowder (6-6 Sr., 11.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 49% FG, 36% 3pt, 62% FT, 1.6 APG, 1.3 SPG)
C Chris Otule (6-11 Jr., 5.1 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 55% FG, 58% FT, 1.5 BPG)
Other Key Returning Players: G Vander Blue (6-4 So., 5.1 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 39% FG, 61% FT, 1.6 APG)
F Davante Gardner (4.6 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 58% FG, 75% FT)
G Junior Cadougan (6-1 Jr., 4.0 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 42% FG, 64% FT, 3.2 APG)
Key Losses: F Jimmy Butler (15.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 49% FG, 35% 3pt, 78% FT, 2.3 APG, 1.4 APG)
G Dwight Buycks (8.8 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 46% FG, 41% 3pt, 68% FT, 3.4 APG, 1.1 SPG)

Four jerseys. Three guards. Two consecutive years of producing a first-round pick in the NBA draft. One constantly underrated program that will once again be going into the season having flown under the radar in the minds of analysts, and will once again surprise everyone.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Marquette basketball.

The Golden Eagles have made a trademark of this unexpected success for years, even back when Mike Deane was coaching in the 1990s and even through the Tom Crean era that was highlighted by the school's Final Four appearance in 2003, their first since the great Al McGuire brought a national championship to Milwaukee in 1977. Head coach Buzz Williams returns for his fourth season at the helm of Marquette; and for the first time in his relatively short tenure, Buzz (his real first name is Brent, by the way) finally has more players coming back than he does leaving, a change from recent years in which the likes of Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews, Dominic James and Lazar Hayward among others have come and gone. "This is my first time since my first year that we have more returnees than newcomers," said Williams when interviewed recently by college basketball insider Jon Rothstein.

A big contributor to that factor is the presence of 6-2 senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom, who will almost certainly be a first team all-Big East selection by season's end; and possibly the conference's Player of the Year. Johnson-Odom, described last year by Williams as a "hoops savant," comes into his final campaign off a season in which he was the Golden Eagles' leading scorer, averaging nearly sixteen points per game and shooting 36 percent from three point range, not to mention making several highlight reel-worthy plays that helped Marquette defy the odds from their No. 11 seed in the Big East to earn a trip to the Sweet 16, where they were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in Newark by Roy Williams and North Carolina.

Joining Johnson-Odom in the backcourt trio that has become a staple of Marquette since the days of Travis Diener, Steve Novak and some guy named Dwyane Wade, who has since gone on to become one of the best in the NBA while playing for the Miami Heat, will be sophomore Vander Blue, who was a highly touted recruit last season. Blue averaged just five points per game a year ago while making the transition to the Division I level, but has improved over the offseason to the point where Williams has stated that he would "help us more because he has a better understanding" of the game and the competition. Replacing Dwight Buycks at the point will be Junior Cadougan, the Canadian import entering his junior season. Williams has raved about Cadougan to no end every time I mention him in an interview; and although he is really a sophomore in relation to his playing time, both myself and his coach are confident that he will have a breakout year as the primary facilitator for the Golden Eagles.

Up front, Jimmy Butler is gone after he was drafted by the Chicago Bulls, but Williams returns the services of senior forward Jae Crowder. One of the many junior college transfers to have come to Marquette in recent years, Crowder made quite the first impression in the Big East last season by averaging nearly twelve points and seven rebounds per game while also shooting 36 percent from beyond the arc. Crowder will be the power forward in most situations while 6-11 big man Chris Otule comes back for his junior season to man the middle for Williams.

Sophomore Davante Gardner headlines the bench for Williams, and the coach has gushed about the development of both the 6-8 Gardner and the aforementioned Otule. "They've put me in a position to think about finishing a game with one of them on the floor," said Williams in the Jon Rothstein interview. Sophomore forward Jamail Jones, who competed in eighteen contests for the Golden Eagles last year, will also be an integral part of the Marquette rotation. Williams also welcomes freshman Todd Mayo to the team, a 6-3 guard who Williams believes is reminiscent of former New York Knick John Starks; as well as former Oregon transfer Jamil Wilson, a 6-7 swingman returning to his native Wisconsin. In addition, the Golden Eagles bring in two more freshmen in 6-6 swingman Juan Anderson, who should see a sizable amount of minutes following a conclusion to his high school career in which he averaged over sixteen points per game; and six-foot guard Derrick Wilson, a three-time player of the year in high school that could push Cadougan for minutes at the point.

Marquette opens their season at their home court of the Bradley Center with two games against Mount St. Mary's (November 11th) and Norfolk State (November 14th) before heading to the Virgin Islands to take part in the Paradise Jam, with three games that will take them up to Thanksgiving week. A home game against Jacksonville precedes the Golden Eagles' annual showdown with in-state rival Wisconsin, which takes place at the Kohl Center in Madison on December 3rd. Three days later, the Golden Eagles head to Madison Square Garden to take on Washington in the Jimmy V Classic, a one-night tournament that also includes fellow Big East program Villanova.

Home games against Wisconsin-Green Bay and Northern Colorado follow the excursion to the Garden; and Marquette will next head to the bayou to face Louisiana State in Baton Rouge on December 19th before two more nonconference games at the Bradley Center, with the first coming against Wisconsin-Milwaukee on December 22nd. One week later, Marquette will host Vanderbilt in what should be one of the more intriguing and competitive interconference contests all season, as the Golden Eagles will be going up against Kevin Stallings and a Commodores team that brings virtually everyone from last season back, headlined by John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor and big man Festus Ezeli.

Marquette opens 2012 and Big East play with a New Year's Day home game against Villanova that is sure to go down to the wire like every other meeting in recent memory between the Golden Eagles and Wildcats. Road games against Georgetown and Syracuse precede a three-game homestand in which Marquette will pay tribute to its glorious history, first on Al McGuire Night January 11th against St. John's. The 95th anniversary celebration of Golden Eagles basketball comes next when Pittsburgh invades the Bradley Center three days later, with Rick Pitino and Louisville coming into town on January 16th for a Martin Luther King Day matinee.

A road trip to Providence and home game against USF are next on Marquette's ledger before the Golden Eagles wrap up a home-and-home series with Villanova on January 28th at the Wells Fargo Center. A home meeting with Seton Hall closes out January, and Marquette hits the road immediately following for collisions with Notre Dame and DePaul. Three years ago, Marquette ended the Fighting Irish home winning streak, and could be in line to do that again when they come to the Joyce Center on February 4th.

The start of a home-and-home series with Cincinnati is next for the Golden Eagles on "National Marquette Day" at the Bradley Center on February 11th, with a road game at the XL Center against Connecticut preceding Marquette's penultimate home game on February 22nd against Rutgers. A road trip to West Virginia and then Cincinnati to complete the back end of a home-and-home series concludes February, with the Golden Eagles celebrating senior night at home on March 3rd when Georgetown will square off against Marquette for the second time this season.

4 comments:

  1. Very nice write-up,good understanding of the program. Thanks

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  2. Thank you...I do what I can! Got some great quotes from Buzz at media day yesterday too...we can expect more of the same from this team: Picked lower than they'll actually finish.

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  3. Good write-up,precise and knowledgable.
    More background and insight than most magazines
    and web sites.

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  4. Thanks! Having covered Marquette as a St. John's opponent for the last five years, and having seen the team on TV since the Mike Deane era, I tried to make this as good as possible. Glad you enjoyed it!

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