Tuesday, October 4, 2011

2011-2012 Top 50 Countdown: No. 24 Marquette Golden Eagles

Over the coming weeks, we will be counting down our Top 50 teams in the country. Teams 26-50 will be posted in groups of five, while we will count backwards from No. 25 to the No. 1 team in the country. You can find a complete schedule of our 2011-2012 Season Preview coverage here. To browse through the rest of the Top 50, click here.

Last Season: 22-15, 9-9 (t-9th, Big East), lost to UNC in the Sweet 16

Head Coach: Buzz Williams

Key Losses: Jimmy Butler, Dwight Buycks, Erik Williams, Joseph Fulce, Reggie Smith

Newcomers: Juan Anderson, Derrick Wilson, Todd Mayo, Jamil Wilson

Projected Lineup:

- G: Junior Cadougan, Sr.
- G: Darius Johnson-Odom, Sr.
- F: Vander Blue, So.
- F: Jae Crowder, Sr.
- C: Chris Otule, Jr.
- Bench: Davante Gardner, So.; Jamil Wilson, So.; Jamail Jones, So.; Juan Anderson, Fr.; Derrick Wilson, Fr.; Todd Mayo, Fr.

Outlook: Much of the talk of the first weekend of the 2011 NCAA Tournament centered on the Big East and the fact that, of the 11 teams that earned a bid to the dance from the league, only two made it past the first weekend. One of those teams was UConn, who would eventually win the national title. The other? Marquette, who knocked off league rival Syracuse before getting smoked by UNC in the Sweet 16. And while Marquette's postseason success left Golden Eagle fans with a satisfied feeling after the season, it masked what was an up-and-down year. Marquette lost a number of close games in non-conference play, they blew an 18 point lead in six minutes against Louisville and they lost their last two regular season games against Cincinnati and Seton Hall, which forced the Golden Eagles to need a run to the Big East quarterfinals just to earn a bid to the Big Dance.

Perhaps the biggest victory for Marquette came after the season actually ended, when they were able to resign Buzz Williams to a seven-year contract. Williams drew heavy interest this offseason from schools like Oklahoma and Texas A&M when their head coaching positions came open.

Marquette should once again find themselves in a position to make a run at the NCAA Tournament. While they lose two starters in Dwight Buycks and the criminally underrated Jimmy Butler, the Golden Eagles have some pieces back that should minimize the negative effect. At the point, Junior Cadougan has proven himself to be a capable playmaker, posting just six fewer assists on the season than Buycks despite playing two-thirds as many minutes. What made Buycks so dangerous, however, was his ability to hit from long-range. Cadougan made two threes all season long.

Butler's graduation will allow Jae Crowder to play a bigger role this year. Marquette is becoming a powerhouse when it comes to the tweener-forward position. Buzz Williams loves players of that ilk -- 6'7" forwards that battle on the glass, hit from long-range, and create matchup problems with their ability on the perimeter. Crowder should, theoretically, be able to thrive next season simply because he does some many things well. He defends, he attacks the glass, he'll knock down a three if you give him space, he'll put the ball on the floor if you crowd him and he doesn't turn the ball over.

This may be the only Marquette preview you read that gets five paragraphs deep before mentioning Darius Johnson-Odom. DJO has a legitimate chance to be the Big East Player of the Year. He is the leading returning scorer and a senior that will be counted on to provide leadership for a group with some young-but-talented pieces. DJO can do a lot of different things on the offensive end of the floor, but he is at his best when he is a slasher that uses his ability to get to the rim and finish to set up his perimeter shot.

The rest of the Marquette perimeter attack appears to be solid. Vander Blue was a top 30 recruit coming out of high school, and while he did crack the starting lineup 12 times as a freshman and played tough defense throughout the year, his offense never came around. Blue could end up being an x-factor if he develops into a double-digit scorer this year. Oregon transfer Jamil Wilson -- a former top 50 recruit that started for the Ducks as a freshman in 2009-2010 -- is an athletic small forward that may end up starting this year alongside Crowder. Also expect freshman Juan Anderson -- who is cut from the same cloth as Butler and Crowder -- to see minutes as well. Freshman Derrick Wilson will back up Cadougan at the point.

What's interesting about Marquette this season is that they actually have a couple of legitimate low-post threats. Chris Otule started last season and appears to finally be healthy heading into his junior year. Otule, who was born with one eye, has trouble catching quick, dump-off passes, but that's really the only issue he has with his vision. He's a bid-body inside that takes up space and will block a couple of shots. Like Blue, Davante Garnder will end up being an x-factor for Marquette. The 6'9" sophomore has some terrific moves around the rim, which is why he was so productive last season in the limited minutes that he played. But his weight and conditioning kept those minutes down. It appears he has bought into the idea of getting into shape and being a 20 mpg player, which should finally give Buzz Williams a low-post threat.

Marquette will be an interesting team to watch. Their reputation is as a scrappy club of over-achievers that always find themselves in dogfights, but there appears to be more talent on this team. DJO is a legitimate Player of the Year contender in the Big East. Crowder, Wilson, Blue and Anderson once again give the Eagles a deep, talented and versatile crop of forwards to work with. There is size inside and a playmaker at the point. The key, in my opinion, will be defensively. Marquette needs to get better at forcing their opponent's into difficult shots and must improve on their defensive rebounding. If this club can consistently get stops, they can make a push for a top four finish in the league.

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