If you told Buzz Williams prior to the season that his Golden Eagles squad would be tied for first place at the midway point in the Big East Conference slate, Williams would have taken it in a heartbeat. Marquette has started 7-2 in league play, with the pair of losses coming on the road at Cincinnati (overtime) and Louisville.
Heading into Wednesday night, the top nine teams in the Big East were within 1.5 games of each other in the standings, leaving little room for bad losses, which Marquette has avoided since a loss to Green Bay in nonconference.
Marquette has been tough to beat in Milwaukee, with their last home loss occurring in December 2011 against Vanderbilt. If they can keep that up and win their home remaining home games: DePaul, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and Notre Dame, they give themselves a great shot at receiving a double-bye in the Big East Tournament.
Here's a look at each of the 10 rotation players, as well as the three players not seeing normal minutes, and how they have played during the first half of the 2012-13 season. While there is still room to improve, I believe both Williams and the Marquette faithful must be happy with what they've seen recently from this squad.
No player on Marquette's roster has improved more than Blue, who has become the Golden Eagles' leading scorer and go-to-guy on offense. After two mediocre seasons to start his highly anticipated collegiate career, Blue is showing why he was worth all the hype coming out of high school.
Blue scored a career-high 30 points on 13-for-20 shooting in a contest against South Florida last week. His rebounding and assist numbers are down from a year ago, however he no longer is in the back seat behind Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, leaving Blue to look for his own offense more often.
Blue has a smooth mid-range game, can get to the basket with ease and can stretch the defense from deep on occasion. For this team to continue their Big East success, Blue's consistency is the key. If Blue continues his progression as a player, don't be surprised to hear his name called in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Midseason Grade: A
Cadougan serves as the floor general for Marquette, initiating the offense and providing constant on-ball defense. As a three-year starter, the leadership that Cadougan provides on the court is unmatched, whether noticed or not.
In a December win over rival Wisconsin, Cadougan scored 18 points on 7-for-10 shooting, with many of those buckets coming late to stave off a Badger comeback. No shot in Cadougan's career will be more remembered than his game-tying buzzer-beating three-pointer to send Marquette's New Year's Day matchup with UCONN into overtime, which the Golden Eagles eventually won.
Cadougan's 8.6 point and 4.2 assist averages are nothing to drool over, but his game isn't truly reflected on his statistics. Cadougan has struggled scoring recently however, only scoring in double figures once in the past seven games since the shot over UCONN. Getting Cadougan back on track will go a long ways for this team come March.
Midseason Grade: B
When I heard Trent Lockett was transferring to Marquette from Arizona State, where he had been the team's best player the previous two seasons, I immediately jumped to the conclusion that Lockett would fill in for the lost seniors and instantly become the team's best player.
Up to this point, that certainly hasn't been the case. Lockett's recent play is something worth being excited over though. After scoring in double figures only once all season, Lockett has dropped 13, 10, and 16 points over the past three contests.
Playing the small forward position, Lockett averages 5.1 rebounds. Lockett was the man at ASU, leading his statistics to be inflated playing for a bad team. I'm sure he'd trade all those personal stats though to become an integral part of a soon-to-be NCAA Tournament, as he's recently stepped up and done.
Midseason Grade: B-
Juan Anderson's freshman season in Milwaukee was pretty eventless, as he played in 24 contests, averaging 0.7 points in 4.5 minutes. I for one, did not see Anderson making the jump to starting power forward as a sophomore, even if he only sees the court for 14.9 minutes per game.
Anderson is still not a big time scorer, averaging 3.5 points. He is active on the glass though and pulls in 3.2 rebounds, with just under one of those coming on the offensive end. At 6-foot-6 he is undersized for the "4" position, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in athleticism and effort.
Having Anderson contribute solid minutes allows Buzz Williams to play the deep 10-man rotation that he loves playing. Anderson may not do anything spectacular, but he's not going to make plays that will hurt your ball club either.
Midseason Grade: B
The fifth-year senior Otule returned to the team after missing nearly all of the 2011-12 season after an injury at Madison Square Garden against Washington. Otule's role on this year's team is the same that he has had since he broke into the rotation as a junior.
Otule averages 4.3 points and 3.1 rebounds in 16.3 minutes, but like Anderson is a starter despite playing less than half the game. Otule's greatest asset, aside from his 6'11" 275 pound frame, is his ability to block shots.
After averaging between 1.5 and 1.7 blocks the past three seasons however, Otule's block number is down to 0.9 this season. He has not scored in double figures since a win over USC in the Maui Invitational either. Though having only one working eye can't help his play, Otule's experience on winning teams and big body will help the Golden Eagles from here on out.
Midseason Grade: C
When both Chris Otule and Davante Gardner went down midway through last season, Marquette's size became very limited. The lanky 6'7" 225 pound Wilson filled in at center in their absences, alongside the 6'5" Jae Crowder in the short but athletic Marquette frontcourt that advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.
Wilson's numbers are about equal to a season ago, at 8.0 points and 4.5 rebounds, though he was expected to become one of Marquette's breakout and most improved players as a redshirt junior. Consistency has been the main problem holding Wilson back from reaching his potential.
Wilson has lacked aggressiveness and the killer instinct needed to bang around with other post players in the Big East, often settling for looks behind the arc. When Wilson's good, he's real good, as he's scored in double figures eight times this season. There have also been six times that Wilson has scored four or less points. Getting the Jamil Wilson of last March back would be monumental.
Midseason Grade: C+
Up until recently, Marquette's leading scorer was coming off their bench. Gardner, who now stands second in the team in scoring, has put up incredible numbers considering the fact that he only plays 21.1 minutes per game as the "backup" center.
Gardner is averaging 12.2 points and 5.4 rebounds during that time, while shooting 57 percent from the field and 87 percent from the charity stripe, leading MU fans to chant "Automatic" when the 6'8" 290 pound junior from Suffolk, Virginia steps to the foul line.
Gardner has scored in double figures in all but four games this season, one of those being an ejection against South Florida for swinging his elbows on a jump ball call. Gardner knows how to draw contact in the paint and uses his body extremely well for someone his size. Gardner is also my favorite player on the MU roster.
Midseason Grade: B+
After playing a key reserve role as a freshman, Todd, the younger brother of NBA star OJ Mayo, was suspended for the entire first semester for academic reasons. The team welcomed him back Dec. 22 against LSU and Mayo has essentially taken Jake Thomas' spot in the rotation.
In Mayo's first nine games, he has scored in double figures three times, contributing to a 6.3 point average. Mayo's primary focus is a scorer off the bench, but needs to improve upon his current 35 percent shooting from the field and 32 percent mark from long range.
Mayo was certainly a welcomed addition when reinstated to the team, though he's basically almost two months behind everyone in basketball shape. Once Big East and NCAA Tournament approach from right around the corner, Mayo should get back into the scoring groove he had a year ago.
Midseason Grade: C+
As I stated earlier regarding Junior Cadougan, stats don't do justice to Cadougan's backup either. Sophomore Derrick Wilson spells Cadougan for 15 minutes off Buzz's bench, scoring 1.8 points, grabbing 1.4 rebounds, and dishing out 2.0 assists.
Wilson is basically a miniature version of Cadougan, a strong point guard who won't back down from competition, especially on the defensive end of the court. It was Wilson who guarded Rotnei Clarke as the Butler star heaved up a prayer to beat Marquette at the Maui Invitational, though if you watch the replay Wilson's defense is textbook on that play.
Wilson has only scored six points in Big East play, on three free throws and one three-point field goal, though on a team with plenty of capable scorers, that's not Wilson's role. Continuing to effectively run the offense when the second line players enter the game, is what gives Williams' the faith to play so many players in his rotation.
Midseason Grade: B-
Taylor, one of Marquette's two freshmen, chose Marquette after playing his prep career at Simeon in Chicago. Wilson was the top senior in the state of Illinois a year ago, but didn't get the hype that his younger teammate and future Duke Blue Devil Jabari Parker received.
The 6'7" 200 pound freshman has filled in nicely thus far, leading to a recent increase in minutes. For the season, Taylor Jr. averages 3.5 points and 1.8 rebounds in 9.6 minutes. At first he only really saw extended minutes when one of the team's bigs was sidelined with foul trouble.
Now, Taylor sees the floor earlier and more often, as evidenced by his playing double figure minutes in each of the past four games. While Taylor could be considered the "10th man", I believe Williams should continue to play him regularly as Marquette's depth is a strength that they need to show off.
Midseason Grade: B
While Jake Thomas has played in all but one game this season, his recent decline in minutes has taken him out of their so-called "rotation." Over the past six games, Thomas has only played eight total minutes. Thomas came to Marquette as a sharpshooting transfer from South Dakota, but has struggled to find his stroke from deep, as he's only converting on 27 percent of his long range attempts.
Freshman Jamal Ferguson has seen time in 11 games, but is behind both Cadougan and Derrick Wilson on the team's depth chart at point guard. That could change a year from now, once Cadougan has graduated.
Walk-on and former Benet Redwing Dylan Flood has yet to score in his collegiate career, this being his first season on the team as a junior. The Golden Eagles will also have Idaho State transfer Garrett Swanson eligible to play forward next season.
Midseason Grade: N/A