Buzz Williams was just one of many highlight reel attractions for Marquette this season. (Animated GIF photo courtesy of Midwest Sports Fans via SB Nation)
Four jerseys. Three guards. Two straight trips to the Sweet 16. One coach and program that still gets no respect. This is Marquette basketball, and this year's incarnation of the former Warriors provided more thrills and excitement that national champion Kentucky at various times during the season.
At 27-8 on the year, the Golden Eagles started out winning their first ten games despite losing center Chris Otule for the season with a torn ACL during Marquette's comeback win over Washington in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden. All coach Buzz Williams did was place more emphasis on defense and the concept of "paint touches" to go with a dynamic offense that uncovered the latest unheralded recruit turned star produced by Marquette, eventual Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder.
The junior college transfer from Georgia averaged over seventeen points and eight rebounds per game as an undersized power forward, and Crowder's 35 percent clip from three point range and average of 2.5 steals per contest made him a well-rounded player on both sides of the ball as he made the same kind of impact former Golden Eagle big man Lazar Hayward did two years prior. Unfortunately, Crowder graduates next month; as does partner in crime Darius Johnson-Odom, a first team all-Big East selection who averaged better than eighteen points per game and shot 39 percent from beyond the arc to draw comparisons to Jerel McNeal, Marquette's all-time leading scorer. Joining the man affectionately known as "DJO" and "3JO" in the backcourt were Wisconsin native Vander Blue (8.4 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in an understated role) and point man Junior Cadougan, whose five-plus assists per night solidified his status as one of the Big East's better ball handlers. Freshman Todd Mayo, whose older brother O.J. is of course the face of the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies, averaged eight points per game off the bench as Johnson-Odom's main understudy. Mayo will join the returning Blue and Cadougan as the starting guards next season, while Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson platoon once again with a healthy Otule up front for Marquette. Gardner averaged close to ten points per game before and after his own injury that cost him eight games this past season, and Wilson; a former Oregon transfer who returned to his home state, played arguably some of the best defense Marquette exhibited all season to supplement his seven points and four rebounds per contest. Juan Anderson, Jamail Jones and Derrick Wilson will all return as well to headline the Marquette bench, as Buzz Williams once again has more players coming back to Milwaukee than he has grown accustomed to since replacing former coach and current Indiana head man Tom Crean.
Marquette also welcomes a four-person recruiting class at the moment, with verbal commitments from shooting guards T.J. Taylor and Jamal Ferguson; the latter of whom is ranked 31st at this position by Rivals.com, as well as 6-9 big man Aaron Durley and 6-8 power forward Steve Taylor, a Chicago native who is a fringe Top 100 prospect. The Golden Eagles are also rumored to be involved with 6-10 center Phillip Nolan, a homegrown talent who is also said to be considering fellow Big East school St. John's despite the Red Storm's heavy interest in Chris Obekpa.
The losses of Johnson-Odom and Crowder may appear to be too much to overcome, but one look at what Buzz Williams brings back dispels that notion almost immediately. Marquette should remain one of the deeper and more talented teams in the Big East just for the sheer fact that they reload as well as some of the more prestigious programs in the nation, giving fans more optimism around Marquette Nation.
Ring Out Ahoya!