With Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder gone, Junior Cadougan becomes leader for Marquette on both sides of the ball as the point guard enters his senior season. (Photo courtesy of Paint Touches)
Following a preview of Jamie Dixon's Pitt team that is about to enter their final season in Big East play, the team-by-team previews continue with a program synonymous with four jerseys, three guards; and now, two consecutive Sweet 16 appearances.
In just four seasons since replacing Tom Crean after the longtime coach of the former Warriors left to succeed Kelvin Sampson at Indiana, Buzz Williams has made the transition from unknown to underrated, with results that have defied convention. Now about to enter his fifth campaign at the helm of the Golden Eagles, the affable Texan has likened his program to building a house in recent interviews prior to the season opener.
"Every year, you build a house; and when that year is over, you have to sell it and buy a new one," Williams said at Big East media day last week. "I think every team is specific to the house they live in. We've got a lot of work to do to replicate what we've done." Gone are all-Big East selections Darius Johnson-Odom and reigning conference Player of the Year Jae Crowder, but Williams brings mounds of depth and his usual cadre of underrated players into the Bradley Center this year. "Those two guys were like a really good drug for us," said Williams of his two stars that later became NBA Draft selections this past June. "We became addicts to what they gave us every day."
If Williams has built houses over the years, his Marquette players have turned them into mansions within just a few games, starting with senior point guard Junior Cadougan. After having his freshman season essentially wiped out due to injury, the Canadian import has come a long way in three seasons, and will become the first player in the Williams era to be a four-year student-athlete. Last season, Cadougan averaged just slightly over six points per game, but his passing ability was second to none, thanks in large part to his five-plus assists per contest. Vander Blue returns to the backcourt for his junior season as well, this time with a new number, switching to No. 13 from his previous No. 2. The Wisconsin native had a breakout sophomore season last year with averages of over eight points and four rebounds per game, and will almost certainly have the opportunity to do more as he shares the backcourt with Cadougan and Marquette's latest transfer into the program, former Arizona State guard Trent Lockett. Lockett, who completed his degree at Arizona State, is eligible to play immediately in Milwaukee, and is already being hailed as a leader by his new coach. "I don't think I've ever had someone who was eligible to be on our staff before I coached them," said Williams of Lockett, who should be the choice to replace Johnson-Odom in the Golden Eagles' starting five. Todd Mayo should reprise his role as Marquette's sixth man as the sophomore adds to the deep backcourt Williams can also count reserves Derrick Wilson and Jake Thomas as members of. Incoming freshman Jamal Ferguson will also see some minutes in the backcourt during the season.
One of Marquette's biggest concerns, as it usually is prior to every season, is how the frontcourt will hold up. After tearing his ACL in the Golden Eagles' dramatic win against Washington in the Jimmy V Classic just eight games into the season, Chris Otule has received a medical redshirt, and the senior enters the season at "85 percent" according to Williams. Fellow big man Davante Gardner, who missed eight games of his own, is back at full speed after a breakout sophomore campaign in which he averaged nearly ten points per game while shooting 56 percent from the field. Junior swingman Jamil Wilson will see significant minutes as well following the former Oregon transfer's first season in a Marquette uniform, one in which he averaged over seven points and four rebounds per game. Freshman Steve Taylor will also have a chance to contribute after the Chicago native impressed his new coach with his "high motor" in practice.
The former Warriors take the court for the first time on November 9th, when they face Ohio State in the Carrier Classic. Early home games against Colgate and Southeast Louisiana precede a trip to the Maui Invitational, where Marquette will open with Butler as the Bulldogs spend their first year in the Atlantic 10. The Golden Eagles will play two more games in Maui following their showdown with Butler, with the first against either North Carolina or Mississippi State, before returning home on November 26th for a meeting with UMBC at the Bradley Center. A road trip to Florida three days later for Marquette's SEC/Big East Challenge game precedes the annual rivalry game with in-state adversary Wisconsin, to be contested this season on December 8th in Milwaukee after the Golden Eagles defeated the Badgers 61-54 in Madison behind a big game from Todd Mayo.
A home game against Savannah State (December 15th) and road trip to Wisconsin-Green Bay (December 19th) take Marquette into their final two nonconference games, the first being a return match with LSU at the Bradley Center on December 22nd before North Carolina Central comes to Milwaukee a week later. After opening Big East play and 2013 at home on New Year's Day against UConn and new coach Kevin Ollie, the Golden Eagles welcome Georgetown to their home court on January 5th, and get a week off before invading the Petersen Center for the final time in Big East play on January 12th for a Saturday matinee with Pittsburgh.
Marquette returns home on January 16th to face Seton Hall for the first of two times this season, and heads to Cincinnati three days later. A week off will precede a two-game homestand against Providence (January 26th) and USF (January 28th) that will take the Golden Eagles into February, which they will open on the 3rd of the month at Louisville before completing a home-and-home series with Stan Heath and USF on February 6th. Three days later, DePaul comes into the Bradley Center for Al McGuire Day, which honors the legendary coach of the 1977 national championship team at Marquette. Selfishly speaking, this writer hopes Buzz Williams pays tribute to McGuire by wearing the same jacket he wore last year. (Photo courtesy of Fox Sports Wisconsin)
Marquette heads to Georgetown on February 11th to complete a home-and-home series with Georgetown before welcoming Pitt into Milwaukee on the 16th, when the Golden Eagles will celebrate the tenth anniversary of their 2003 Final Four team, led of course by Dwyane Wade. Road battles with Seton Hall (February 19th) and Villanova (February 23rd) ensue before Williams' team welcomes Syracuse to the Bradley Center for a Monday night showdown on February 25th. Senior day will take place five days later on March 2nd, when the Golden Eagles face Notre Dame before traveling to the New York metropolitan area for their final regular season games against Rutgers (March 5th at the RAC) and St. John's, on March 9th at Madison Square Garden.