Yes. But will they? I was at the game on Thursday and watched Vanderbilt completely outplay them. So what should we take away from that game? What can the Golden Eagles do in the Big East this year?
Pre-Season articles are so difficult to write, so I thought I would wait until the Golden Eagles finished off their non-conference schedule in order to more accurately predict what kind of year they could have. Going into Thursday’s home game against the Vanderbilt Commodores, there were plenty of good things to say. Then I sat in the Bradley Center and watched them play one of the worst games I have ever seen a team play and I can’t help but second-guess Buzz Williams’ squad. A lot of experts were really high on Marquette after their great start, particularly after their victory at U-Wisconsin, and while I was very excited for what the season might bring, I still remember the humiliating loss to North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen last season. The Golden Eagles are certainly a good team, but are they going to be able to play consistently with elite teams? SneakyGoodSports takes a look at the Vandy loss, the team’s strengths and weaknesses, and an evaluation of each player.
What went wrong against Vanderbilt?
Just about everything went wrong against Vandy. For the first few minutes it was a simple difference of shooting. While the Golden Eagles could not make anything, Vanderbilt started off fairly strong, with Brad Tinsley leading the way early. Unfortunately the bad shooting only continued and the Commodores didn’t let up as John Jenkins began to find the zone from beyond the arc. It didn’t help that MU couldn’t get to or finish at the hoop (some questionable officiating, but that’s no excuse) and the turnovers started to pile up. Suddenly it was 31-6, and that basically ended the game right there. Marquette made a short run by making a few shots and forcing a few turnovers, but when Vanderbilt regrouped and kept the lead in the 20’s, MU pretty much shut down, and the crowd let them hear it. Even if you outplay Marquette, you won’t outwork them, but for once I don’t think that was the case. Not that you can really blame them when they were down by 22 at halftime.
Bottom Line– Sometimes Marquette just can’t buy a bucket. I don’t know if they’re just spent from their strenuous practices and game-day shoot-arounds or what, but this team of skilled shooters occasionally goes ice cold. Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder also completely disappeared, which is not what you want to see from Big East Player of the Year candidates. The absence of Chris Otule is really a problem, as his presence on offense and defense is severely missed.
Marquette is a versatile team that plays solid fundamental basketball. When they shoot well they can be lights out from 3, mid-range, or driving to the basket. However, they occasionally go completely cold and cannot make anything from anywhere. They can limit turnovers (although careless mental mistakes are sometimes a problem) and are able to force a number of them (third best steal/turnover ration in Big East so far). They have plenty of star-power with Darius Johnson-Odom, who can be unstoppable when he is playing his best. Athletically they can run with anyone and they are second to none when it comes to hustling. Team defense is decent, although they leave too many players open for 3 and occasionally allow uncontested dunks (Otule’s absence is a factor). Individually they lack perimeter defenders outside of Vander Blue, as starters Johnson-Odom and Junior Cadougan sometimes struggle. Depth has been an issue for Marquette the last two years, but this year Buzz Williams has not been afraid to play ten or eleven every game. Apart from shooting and overall defense, the Golden Eagles biggest problem is definitely size. With Otule out, they seriously lack size, and Big East teams with skilled centers will give them all sorts of trouble. It is still unclear who will takeover when the going gets tough. In past years it was Jimmy Butler, Lazar Hayward, and Jerel McNeal, but this year DJO and Jae Crowder have both disappeared at times (the loss to Vanderbilt is the most glaring example) and been very clutch at others (the win versus Washington).
Bottom Line– When Otule returns, Marquette will be solid enough defensively to keep them in games. If they shoot well their offense is highly potent and they can score with anyone. Their hustle is a difference maker and when they don’t make mental mistakes they take care of the basketball. The depth and scoring ability from the bench is something they haven’t had for a few years and could really help.
Darius Johnson-Odom: DJO is simply a dynamic scorer. Although he still isn’t shooting as accurately from 3 as he did in his stellar sophomore season, he still shoots 37% from beyond the arc and can use it to supplement the rest of his game, which has continued to improve over the years. He has improved his mid-range shooting, as he is able to create space and then make the step-back. He drives to the hoop strong and is able to finish in traffic or convert at the free-throw line. He is definitely capable of being named to the All Big East first team and possibly POY, but their are just some games when he struggles mightily shooting the ball, and when he doesn’t score he has trouble contributing in other ways. If he can improve his shooting numbers and take over in the clutch, this dynamic scorer could have a terrific conference season and continue to improve his draft stock.
Jae Crowder: Johnson-Odom is the best player on this team, but Crowder, another one of Buzz Williams’ JuCo transfers, may be as equally vital to the team’s success. Crowder’s strength and athleticism allow him to rebound with taller opponents. His free-throw shooting comes and goes and his mid-range game is relatively weak, but at times he can catch fire from 3 (39%). His lack of leaping ability limits him around the basket however, which is where he could be most effective. When other players his size would dunk, he has to try a lay-up, and often he is fouled and has to shoot free throws. Sometimes he inexplicably misses short layups as well. Crowder sank a clutch 3 against Washington to win the game, but in big games this year he hasn’t played as well as he has against weak opponents. He only scored 2 points against Wisconsin and he shot very poorly versus Vanderbilt. He has certainly improved since last year though, and with the right match-ups and the completion of the frontcourt he could have a terrific season.
Vander Blue: After a terribly disappointing season offensively his freshman year, Vander Blue has finally showed some signs of life this year. However, it is still not equal to the hype he created as a recruit from Madison Memorial. He remains the team’s best perimeter defender, but his offense is still unreliable. He hasn’t made his outside shooting a factor yet, and, like last year, he sometimes has trouble finishing at the basket once he gets there, which he is able to do quite easily. At times he has looked terrific, like in wins against Winthrop and Northern Colorado, and he is excellent in transition. It looks like we may have to wait for another year or two for the player that was so highly rated before his freshman season, but with more confidence and an attacking mindset, this could be a very solid year for the sophomore guard.
Chris Otule: The 6′ 11″ redshirt junior doesn’t look to score, but that doesn’t mean he is unable to. However, Otule’s contribution to the team is his defense against opposing big men and his hard work on offense. Every possession he occupies a defender, which can free up the lane for the guards to drive, or for Jae Crowder to rebound and get easy baskets. Conditioning, free-throws, and foul trouble have been problematic at times for him, but his size is of critical importance to the Golden Eagles. If they want to make a run in the Big East, they need to have Otule in the game.
Junior Cadougan: His strength is that he makes very few mistakes. His weakness is that he makes even fewer big plays. He has the ability to score, like we saw last year in the Big East tournament versus West Virginia, but sometimes he looks completely lost scoring the ball. Through the first 9 games he recorded 6.5 assists per game, but he has only three total in the last three. Past Marquette teams had big play point guards who could score like Maurice Acker and Dominic James, but last year the point guard spot was in question. This team is better when Cadougan plays, but they can be great if he plays well.
Todd Mayo:The scouting report of Todd Mayo was that he was a talented scorer. He still was not very
highly rated though. After the first 13 games, I can’t believe this guy wasn’t a 93 or higher. Forget his older brother; Todd will create a name of his own. The freshman guard can flat out ball. Besides DJO, he seems to be the most talented scorer on the team. It just seems to come naturally to him. When he started in place of DJO versus Northern Colorado he dropped 22 points, shooting 4-8 from 3. Early in the game against Vanderbilt, yells of “We want Todd!” and “Mayo!” could be heard shouted from the student section. This guy is going to be very good if he keeps working.
Jamil Wilson: The transfer from Oregon is one of the more intriguing bench players on the team. He hasn’t score a lot this year (he has also had limited minutes). He is one of the taller players on the team and appears to be a good athlete, too. Overall Marquette is a fairly small team, so Wilson’s height could prove to be valuable going forward. It doesn’t appear to be clear yet what his strength on offense is. He appears able to shoot 3’s and play in the post, but he has deferred to other players too often to show what his true strength is. Still, he’s only a sophomore, and next year, with DJO and Crowder gone, he could have a big scoring role on the team. For now, he’s a role player, but in the future he could be a stand-out scorer.
Davante Gardner: Gardner is a truly unique player. He is listed at 6′ 8″ 290 (and I think he’s lost weight) but he has no leaping ability, which makes it difficult for him to play center, which he has been forced to play with Otule out. However, despite his size, Gardner has very good ball skills. He has a soft touch around the basket and shoots free throws well. I was amazed as I watched during warm-ups to see him shooting Dirk Nowitzki one-foot fade-aways and step back jumpshots. His ball-handling wasn’t too bad either. His height and lack of hops will make it difficult for him to ever be a solid center, but he can definitely be an offensive contributor. If he can get good looks, he can provide a lot of easy offense. His combination of size and skill has to have some sort of good animal-related nickname…. let me know if you think of anything.
Jamail Jones– Jones appears to be a work in progress. He, like Blue, was highly rated coming out of high school, but also like Blue, he has not been an instant contributor. 3’s are supposed to be his strength, but he has shot them poorly because by the time he comes off the bench he is probably completely cold. He does have a combination of height and athleticism though, and with more playing time in later years he could be a very good player. For now, I think he will be limited to giving the starters a short breather.
Derrick Wilson– Wilson had a terrific layup against Vanderbilt that caused me to say “Didn’t know he could do that.” Even with decent minutes, Wilson has only scored 11 points this year. However, he only has 5 total turnovers and his defense has been commendable. Combined with Cadougan, he makes Marquette’s point guard play significantly better than it was last year (Dwight Buycks was a great scorer, but just out of place at point guard).
Juan Anderson– Anderson’s playing time has been very limited this year, so it is difficult to really evaluate his skills. He did have 5 rebounds in only 7 minutes versus Wisconsin though, so perhaps he will be another solid bench player this year in a very limited role as a hustle guy.
To me, there is no question this roster can compete. I am very excited about this season. Forget the Vandy loss; business starts Sunday versus ‘Nova.
Whether you are an MU fan or not, do you think they can finish in the top five in the Big East? Like, comment, subscribe, re-tweet, post to facebook, email the SneakyGoodSportsGuy at firstname.lastname@example.org.