It's been mere hours since Marquette's season 2009 campaign ended in Boise, ID against the Missouri Tigers, and it means that Marquette now has to say good-bye to the greatest senior class in Marquette history.
There's no denying that Dominic James, Wesley Matthews, and Jerel McNeal have been stellar players during their four years in downtown Milwaukee. Now that they're leaving, the common perception is that Marquette will fall in the Big East and fall hard.
My task here is to explain why Marquette will still be competitive in the college basketball world after the departure of the Big Three...in easy-to-follow and ever-popular list form!
5. Buzz Williams
It's been a rough month or so for Marquette. They went 2-6 in their last eight games against a brutal schedule that many teams would've gone through in similar fashion. They did it without the help of Dominic James.
But through the entire stretch, the players remaining showed an incredible toughness, and that toughness comes from leadership.
In each of the previously mentioned six losses, Marquette trailed by double digits at some point. After falling behind, they fought back in every game to take a lead, but fell just short in the end in a few (Louisville, Villanova, Missouri) and ran out of gas in others (Connecticut, Pittsburgh).
Williams is the epitome of toughness with his Texan drawl and no-nonsense haircut, and it's rubbed off on his team. That will continue into next basketball season.
4. Potentially new identity
Ask anyone out on the street about Marquette basketball, and they'll answer with one word: guards. From Diener, Novak, and Wade to McNeal, Matthews, and James, that's been Marquette's strength. Starting next year, that might change just a little bit.
There will be two sophomores, Liam McMorrow and Chris Otule, who stand over 6'10". McMorrow redshirted and Otule didn't play much this season, but a year of experience in practice and conditioning will go a long way in getting these guys ready for Big East play.
In addition, the Golden Eagles recruited a 6'7" freshman from Wesley Matthews' alma mater named Jeronne Maymon. Maymon is built like an ox and will contribute to the team next season.
If Maymon, Otule, and McMorrow can catch on, Marquette should be able to take advantage of its new-found height in 2010.
Buzz Williams proved to a lot of people that he can be a good head coach this season. Nobody had any doubt, however, that Williams is a spectacular recruiter.
From Texas to Toronto, Williams is bringing in guys at all positions. The aforementioned McMorrow (Toronto), Otule (Sugar Land, TX), and Maymon (Madison, WI) are only the beginning.
Upon taking the Marquette job, Williams invaded Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas to bring forwards Jimmy Butler and Joe Fulce into the fold at Marquette. Butler showed his ability already this season, and Fulce showed potential in his limited playing time.
Next season, Williams also recruited three guards to go along with Maymon. Dwight Buycks (Milwaukee), Erik Williams (Cypress, TX), and Junior Cadougan (Toronto).
Buycks will play as a shooting guard, Williams playing somewhere in between the two and the three, and Cadougan, perhaps the best recruit coming in, will challenge the next entry in the list for the starting point guard position.
2. Maurice Acker
When Dominic James went out this season, few outside Marquette knew that the point guard position would be in competent hands.
Acker may not be the same athlete that James is, but not many are. He takes good care of the ball and can hit the occasional three-point shot when he gets an open look.
He's one of those guys who won't wow you with big numbers, but he won't kill you by taking a bad shot at crucial points in the game. A game manager, if you will.
1. Lazar Hayward
For his entire career, Lazar Hayward has been playing out of position as Marquette's power forward. With Matthews and McNeal leaving, Hayward will finally get to play a position more suited to his size and skill set.
He'll get more work on the perimeter. More opportunities to shoot threes. More opportunities to work off the dribble. More opportunities to score.
Hayward's the kind of player who'll make the most of these opportunities as well. That's why he's the primary reason to stay optimistic about Marquette for next season.