Thursday, January 26, 2012

Midseason Review: Marquette

Two days removed from picking up his 100th career win, Buzz Williams looks to pave road to a new milestone Saturday against Villanova.  (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

They started out 10-0; lost four of their next six, and have answered back with a five-game winning streak that got their coach to the 100-win plateau for his young career that, at 39 years of age, is just getting started.  A team that lost their starting center to a torn ACL, yet has played stronger and harder than ever thanks to a resurgent bench that has exceeded expectations for a program that consistently overachieves.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Marquette basketball.

After the former Warriors started out 10-0 despite losing Chris Otule just eight games into the season with the aforementioned knee injury suffered at Madison Square Garden against Washington in the Jimmy V Classic this past December, Marquette proceeded to drop two games against SEC opponents Louisiana State and Vanderbilt before losing two more conference games to Georgetown (one in which the Golden Eagles led by as many as 17 points) and then-No. 1 Syracuse.  Since that loss to the Orange, the blue and gold have won five straight; the most recent of which being a 67-47 win over South Florida that not only gave coach Buzz Williams his 100th career victory, but was also the best defensive game Marquette had played under Williams in the Big East.  I still don't completely understand the concept of tempo-free stats; but here's a closer look at this defensive masterpiece courtesy of our friends over at Cracked Sidewalks, one of the best independent college basketball blogs out there and an indispensable source for all things Marquette.

The keys to Marquette's success have been a group whose whole is much greater than their parts.  Once you get past first team all-Big East guard Darius Johnson-Odom; the team's leading scorer who also shoots 40 percent from beyond the arc in an act of accuracy that has earned him the nickname "3JO," you have fellow starting guards Vander Blue (7.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game) and Junior Cadougan, who is more or less a sophomore after having most of his freshman year wiped out due to injury.  Cadougan won't burn you offensively; but his ball control is better than some playing professionally, averaging 5.6 assists per game compared to just 2.4 turnovers.  This kid will definitely be something special in the future for any team fortunate enough to acquire his services.

Junior college transfer Jae Crowder has impressed as well; and could even be among the contenders for Most Improved Player in the Big East with his averages of over sixteen points and seven rebounds per game, not to mention shooting percentages of 51 from the field and 39 from three-point range.  However, it is the group that has replaced Otule by committee in the Golden Eagle rotation that has really impressed.  Since becoming a starter, sophomore Davante Gardner has taken his opportunity and run with it; averaging 10.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, highlighted by a career-high 22-point, 15-rebound effort on January 11th against St. John's.  It doesn't end there, though.

Todd Mayo has arguably served as Marquette's most valuable player, changing the game every time he is able to break away and make things happen in transition.  Mayo's two-handed slam provided the icing on the cake for the Warriors in their victory over Wisconsin, and looks like a natural heir apparent to replace Johnson-Odom as the starting shooting guard next season.  Fellow freshmen Derrick Wilson and Juan Anderson may not play much; but both, (particularly Wilson when he comes in for Junior Cadougan) along with Jamail Jones, have given Williams one of his better defensive units in recent years.

Oregon transfer Jamil Wilson rounds out the group, and the sophomore is getting better with each game.  After starting out slow, I (and I'm sure Marquette fans too) honestly did not know what to expect.  Wilson gradually showed flashes of brilliance, and has since backed it up with two consistent games; his 16-point, 7-rebound showing against Providence, and an eight-point game against USF that was hindered by foul trouble that limited Wilson to just 20 minutes.

"I just think we're in a really good groove," said Buzz Williams after the USF game.  After 21 games of a season where Williams' tracking of "paint touches" has garnered nationwide notoriety, the Golden Eagles head to the Main Line this Saturday to take on Villanova in search of Williams' 101st career victory.

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