Wednesday, October 8, 2008

No. 16 Marquette: 2008-2009 Team Preview

2007-2008 Team Preview: 25-10, 11-7 Big East (t-5th)

Key Losses: Ousmane Barro (5.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.3 bpg), Dan Fitzgerald (4.2 ppg), Tom Crean (coach)

Key Returnees: Dominic James (12.9 ppg, 4.4 apg), Jerel McNeal (14.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.6 apg), Wesley Matthews (11.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg)

Newcomers: Chris Otule, Joseph Fulce, Jimmy Butler, Buzz Williams (coach)

Tom Crean left Marquette for Indiana, but he leaves Buzz Williams with a very talented team. Marquette, once again, will be loaded with good guards. At this point, everyone around the Big East and the country should know about the trio of seniors Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, and Wesley Matthews. James is probably the most talented of the bunch, but he is coming off of a bit of a disappointing season individually. He was banged up all year long, and never really got on track offensively. When he is 100%, James is one of the best athletes in the country, boasting outstanding quickness and strength, and a 39" vertical. James does have a tendency to look for his own shot first, which sometimes leads to poor decision making, but he did seem to be much more unselfish as the season wore on.

Jerel McNeal had the best season of the three last year, averaging almost 15 points and 5 boards to go along with 3.6 apg and 2.2 spg. He is a very good defender, both on the ball and in the passing lanes, and loves to attack the basket. McNeal is an aggressive player, and can take over a game on both ends of the floor when he gets on a roll (look at the last six games - McNeal averaged 23 ppg, including 30 against Stanford in the NCAA tourney). Matthews is the biggest of the bunch at 6'5". He isn't as talented as James or McNeal, but he does a lot of things well. The best aspect of his game is probably his slashing ability. The Golden Eagles also bring two talented guards off the bench in David Cubillan and Maurice Acker. Cubillan is a 6'0" scoring guard from Venezuela who is a streaky shooter that can put up points in a hurry. Acker is a 5'8" lighting bug with the ball who can create and is a knockdown three point shooter, especially when he gets his feet set.

Marquette's front line is (as it has been the last three years) where the question marks come in. Ousmane Barro is gone, but Marquette does return 6'6" Lazar Hayward. Hayward is the best three-point shooter on the team at 45%, but he tends to fall in love with the shot. He can put the ball on the floor a little bit, especially against bigger players (in Crean's system, Hayward, who is a natural 3, played the four, meaning he would draw a lot of mismatches on the offensive end). Also returning is Dwight Burke, who started 17 games as a junior. Burke is 6'8" and 250 lb, and despite not being too mobile, he is an above average offensive rebounder, grabbing 46 in just 11.8 mpg. Trevor Mbakwe, who was slated to be a medical redshirt after injuring his knee, returned in February and played in 11 games. Mbakwe (who almost transferred after Crean left, but decided to stay when Williams was announced as the head coach) is tough, aggressive, and athletic, and at 6'7" should provide some quality minutes at forward for the Golden Eagles (Ed. Note: Mbakwe actually decided to transfer to Miami-Dade Community College, although he is still listed on the team's roster on the Marquette website). Marquette also adds three guys to their front court rotation - freshman Chris Otule (a 6'10" recruit from Texas who should back up Burke), and sophomore JuCo transfers Jimmy Butler and Joseph Fulce, who both should compete for playing time.

Outlook: Crean left the cupboard full for Williams. He returns a deep, talented, and experienced back court that should provide leadership and make the transition that much easier for Williams. The front court is where they will face problems. The Big East powers (UConn, Notre Dame, Pitt) all are big down low, and unless guys like Mbakwe and Otule can step up and have outstanding years, it will be tough for Marquette to be able to match-up with some of them. That said, their back court (plus Hayward) is talented enough and versatile enough that they should be able to exploit some mismatches and win some games against bigger teams. I think they are right there with the Villanova's and the Syracuse's battling for the 5th-9th spots in the conference.


Pico said...

Dig the blog, good analysis. One point - Mbakwe transferred from Marquette a few weeks ago.

- Pico

Rob Dauster said...

You're right. I knew he was considering it, but I thought he had decided to return. Not sure why he is still on the roster on the Marquette website...