Sitting on top of the current Big East standings at 8-0 in conference, Marquette has been one of the biggest surprises this year in college basketball. This was a team that has always had the potential to do great things, boasting some of the best guard-play in NCAA basketball.
They have got into the NCAA tourney the last three years because of that reason, but have not been able to make it out of the second round (first round losses to Alabama in 06', Michigan State in 07', and a second-round loss to Stanford last year).
This year is different though, because not only have Marquette's big three, McNeal, James, and Matthews, improved, the x-factor to this entire season has been just as good, and that is Lazar Hayward.
The knock on Marquette going into this season was that they do not have a quality big man. In actuality, they do have a big man, just not a prototypical big man. At only 6'6" and 225 lbs, Lazar Hayward is averaging 8.5 rebounds per game, good for ninth in the Big East.
He may not get all the big blocks of a Hasheem Thabeet, but Hayward can rebound with the best of them. His rebounding statistics have gone up the last three years (3.6 rpg 2007, 6.5 rpg last year, and 8.5 rpg this year), showing that he has put the time and effort into focusing on that aspect of the game.
Hitting his Shots
Behind Jerel McNeal and Wes Matthews, Hayward is third on the team in points averaging 16.6 ppg. Hayward is becoming very good at hitting short mid range jumpers, which is pulling the opposing teams "bigs" out of the lane and giving Marquette's perimeter players more room to drive. He has always been able to hit the three, with a .369 3pt %, and is decent at the line, shooting 82 percent.
Improving his All-Around Game
Taking a look at how Lazar has improved since last year, he has increased is rebounds per game by 2, points per game by 3.8, Asts per game by .7, his A/T ratio is better, he is fouling less, and his FG%, FT% and PPS are all up as well. The only aspect of his game that has been down this year is 3P%, but he is still shooting the three at a healthy .369 clip.
If Marquette is looking to make a run in the Big East and NCAA tourneys this season, it will be just as much on the back of Lazar Hayward as it is McNeal, James, and Matthews. Even though those three have played a large part in the success of Marquette this year, I believe it has been Haywards devotion to developing an inside game that has pushed Marquettes playing level to where it currently stands.