Buzz Williams certainly has things looking up in Milwaukee.
After bowing out in the Sweet 16 in 2011 and 2012, Williams and crew got over the hump by making the Elite Eight in 2013. There, they bowed out to Syracuse (whom they beat in the regular season), though they certainly provided their fans some entertaining basketball, especially in the first two NCAA tournament wins over Davidson and Butler.
With plenty of returning talent and Williams' best-ever recruiting class, it seemed as though 2014 could be the year they get to the Final Four.
Vander Blue's questionable decision to leave for the 2013 NBA draft (where he went undrafted) hurt those chances, though this team should still be loaded in 2013-14, thanks to a handful of promising newcomers and the five players highlighted in this article.
And for those five players, specific goals must be met if Marquette is to realize its ambitions for the 2013-14 season.
After two years behind Junior Cadougan, Derrick Wilson may get his shot at the starting point guard for the Golden Eagles. There will be competition, though, as Buzz Williams has brought in 4-star recruit, point guard Duane Wilson (unrelated) to run the offense as well.
My expectation is that Wilson will start the season in the starting five, though Wilson may pass him by the start of conference play. Either way, minutes could be split between the two at the point guard position. Wilson is more of a distributor and defensive stopper, while Wilson is the more dynamic scoring option.
Over two seasons, Wilson has averaged 0.7 steals in 11 minutes of playing time off the Golden Eagle bench. His minutes could very well double as a junior, as should his production on both ends of the court. He also has a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, but has averaged under one point in his career.
Wilson is a safe player to bet on. He may not make the spectacular SportsCenter-worthy highlights, but he'll do the little things to help his team win—like grab a steal that leads to a layup on the other end.
He doesn't force his own offense, which he won't need to do as the Golden Eagle frontcourt is loaded.
As a freshman, Mayo shot 33.3 percent from behind the arc, while averaging 7.9 points off the Golden Eagle bench. He was a key contributor, playing over 21 minutes per night as Vander Blue's backup.
His sophomore year didn't go as smoothly. May was ruled academically ineligible for the 2012 fall semester, and though he came back in late December, he never was able to build upon the momentum of his surprisingly effective freshman year.
Mayo shot 27.9 percent from deep and only averaged 5.3 minutes. His minutes saw a dip to 14.1 as Blue had a breakout year in his absence. In the team's final seven games, Mayo shot 0-of-10 from long range and didn't see any action on the court in the team's Sweet 16 victory over Miami. Jamil Wilson finished the season as the team's top three-point shooter at only 36 percent.
Taking away those last 10 missed three-pointers, Mayo as a sophomore would have again finished at 33.3 percent (17-of-61). Mayo's confidence is a big factor in how well he plays. Given the chance to possibly start or at least play big-time minutes again, Mayo should rise to the occasion and up that three-point percentage with better shot selection.
As a redshirt junior, Wilson averaged 9.7 points, which was good for third on team behind Blue and Davante Gardner. Like Gardner, Wilson came off the Marquette bench, though Wilson did play over 25 minutes per night.
Of the team's 35 games, Wilson scored in double figures 21 times. Wilson was incredibly streaky, scoring in double figures only twice between Nov. 26, 2012 and Jan. 12. In a four-game span in the middle of the Big East season, he averaged only four points per game.
But then Wilson caught fire. Before the season-ending defeat to Syracuse in the Elite Eight though, he scored in double figures in 13 of 14 games and was a big reason Marquette grabbed a share of the Big East title. His increased production also contributed to victories in both the Big East and NCAA Tournaments.
Wilson proved he is a big-time player when Marquette needs him to be. Those efforts need to be more consistent for senior. Should Wilson struggle from behind the arc, he can't become timid, as he did at times during his cold spells a year ago.
The 6'7" 225-pound wing player is a good athlete and can attack the rim. Expect to see more of Wilson at small forward this year, as he previously was slotted at power forward.
As a junior, Gardner finished second on Marquette in scoring at 11.5 points per contest. Gardner was to also grab 4.8 rebounds, while only playing 21.5 minutes as the team's backup center. Whether he starts or not in 2013-14 is unknown, though both his minutes and production should increase.
Gardner has been heralded as one of the nation's most efficient players, which is hard to argue. He shot 59 percent from the field and 84 percent from the field during limited minutes. He averaged five free-throw attempts per game, and unlike other big men, he is able to convert once he gets there.
Gardner's offensive rebounding ability is another asset of his game, as his offensive rebounding percentages were 50 and 40 percent in his sophomore and junior seasons, respectively. Gardner's coming-out party came during his 26-point, eight-rebound effort in a win over Syracuse. Gardner was 7-of-7 from the field and 12-of-13 from the charity stripe in 33 minutes of playing time.
Gardner is more agile and better conditioned than his 6'8", 290-pound frame may suggest. Expecting 15 points and seven rebounds with more playing time as a senior isn't unrealistic. While Doug McDermott's stats may be more gaudy, a Big East regular-season title over Creighton could vault Gardner ahead of McDermott for the conference's best player.
Chris Otule started college when I did, back in the fall of 2008. No, he hasn't transferred multiple times, as so many other players have to keep their eligibility. Instead, he's caught some tough luck with injuries that allowed him to apply for and receive a sixth season of eligibility at Marquette.
Of Otule's five seasons in Milwaukee, only two have been healthy ones. During the three injury-plagued seasons, Otule combined to play only 20 games. For his career, Otule has averaged 4.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocked shots in 16.3 minutes.
Otule averaged 5.1 points a year ago, which he is capable of eclipsing this season, even though he rarely looks for his own offense. Otule dominated Jack Cooley and Notre Dame by scoring 16 points on perfect 8-of-8 shooting on last season's senior day, which, ironically, Otule was not honored for. He also scored 11 points each in wins over Davidson and Miami in the NCAA tournament.
Otule's highest rebounding and blocked-shots averages during full seasons are 3.6 and 1.5, respectively, coming during his third of six seaons. Otule will be joined by the likes of Gardner, Jamil Wilson, Jameel McKay, Juan Anderson and Steve Taylor Jr. in the frontcourt this season. Each player has their own role, and Otule's should be doing the dirty work.
In that same NCAA tournament win over Davidson, he grabbed 11 boards and had four blocks. With one final healthy season, Otule can leave his mark in his best season, yet, in hopefully a fourth straight Sweet 16-or-better season.