Marquette Basketball: Toughest Lineup Decisions for Buzz Williams in 2013-14

Ryan CuriFeatured ColumnistSeptember 22, 2013

Marquette Basketball: Toughest Lineup Decisions for Buzz Williams in 2013-14

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    The Marquette Golden Eagles may not have the superstar tandems that they've had in the past, with the likes of Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder, Darius Johnson-Odom and Vander Blue on campus. They do, however, bring back plenty of talent from a 2013 Elite Eight squad, while also bringing in five talented newcomers.

    The Golden Eagles lost Trent Lockett and Junior Cadougan to graduation, while Vander Blue's decision to leave for the NBA may have been a poor one. Chris Otule, Juan Anderson and Jake Thomas all return to school, even after close calls with eligibility and transfer decisions.

    Buzz Williams also brings in four freshmen and a junior-college stud in the form of Jameel McKay. Williams is one of the best young coaches in the business, and the 2013-14 season should do nothing but help his already-renowned reputation.

Will Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson Start Games?

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    In 2012-13, Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson finished second and third on the Golden Eagles scoring list behind Vander Blue. Gardner averaged 11.5 points, while Wilson notched 9.7 points per night. Gardner played 21.5 minutes and Wilson 25.2, both off Buzz Williams' bench.

    Chris Otule and Juan Anderson were the starting frontcourt a year ago, but the duo only combined to score 7.8 points in 30.7 minutes per game. As seniors, now may be the time for Wilson and Gardner to crack the starting lineup, though they have proven to be effective off the bench.

    Gardner and Wilson are the team's top returning players and have All-Big East potential. Wilson will likely become the starting small forward due to Trent Lockett's absence, which is his more natural position. Don't be surprised to see Gardner backing up Chris Otule yet again, though.

    "If it ain't broke don't fix it" is the phrase that comes to mind here. Gardner has played behind Otule but still gotten the bulk of the minutes at the 5. Another possibility is that Gardner starts at power forward and the two senior bigs play together. Jameel McKay, Juan Anderson and Steve Taylor Jr. are other starting power forward candidates.

Which Backcourt Duo Will Be on the Court in End-of-Game Situations?

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    As I've predicted all offseason, I believe Derrick Wilson and Todd Mayo will be the team's starting backcourt when games tip off in November. Both are juniors and have played meaningful minutes off Williams' bench during their underclassmen years in Milwaukee.

    With Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue now gone, Wilson and Mayo may seem like the obvious candidates to fill in. Enter Duane Wilson and JaJuan Johnson. Both Wilson and Johnson are incoming freshmen and part of Williams' best recruiting class yet.

    At point guard, Derrick Wilson is a steady-handed passer and great on-ball defender. Often times, he would sub out Cadougan if the team needed a defensive stop. While Duane Wilson may play more minutes, as the better scorer of the two, and even take over the starting point guard role, I'd expect to see Derrick at game's end.

    For the shooting guard slot, Mayo is a streaky scorer who prefers to shoot behind the arc but has slashing ability. JaJuan Johnson is a 6'5" wing, whose wingspan makes him the more elusive defender of the two. He is also known as a natural scorer, who can beat you off the bounce or from long range. Johnson could easily win the starting shooting guard spot if Mayo continues to show signs of inconsistency.

Which Players Will See the Court Sparingly?

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    PG: Derrick Wilson/Duane Wilson/John Dawson

    SG: Todd Mayo/JaJuan Johnson/Jake Thomas

    SF: Jamil Wilson/Deonte Burton/Juan Anderson

    PF: Jameel McKay/Steve Taylor Jr.

    C: Chris Otule/Davante Gardner

    As shown by the above depth chart, the Golden Eagles have their full share of 13 scholarship players in 2013-14. In 2012-13, nine of the team's 12 scholarship players played at least 13 minutes per game. Steve Taylor Jr. also played in every game, though for only 8.6 minutes. Jake Thomas was in the team's rotation prior to Todd Mayo's return, but saw his minutes dwindle depending on game situations.

    It's no secret that Williams subs players in and out of games as if it's a hockey line change. The Golden Eagles don't rely on a single player to provide the scoring. Rather, they'll use a scorer-by-committee mentality coupled with hard-nosed defense and energy that makes them the Big East favorites.

    Freshman John Dawson will likely be last year's version of Jamal Ferguson, who only played 65 minutes all year before transferring out. Jake Thomas may struggle to see minutes again, unless he proves his well-touted shooting ability. Juan Anderson's minutes dropped off by last season's end, though I do expect to see him on the court each game.

Will Jameel McKay Be the Next Jae Crowder?

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    Buzz Williams has become the nation's top junior-college recruiter. In five seasons, Williams has brought in talented JUCO talent in the form of Jimmy Butler, Dwight Buycks, Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, all of whom are NBA players.

    Jameel McKay may be the next to join that list. After two All-American seasons at Indiana Hills C.C., the double-double machine McKay will play for the Golden Eagles.

    As a junior in Milwaukee, Jae Crowder averaged 11.8 points and 6.8 rebounds. Then as a senior, he took a huge leap by averaging 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.0 blocked shot.

    Crowder was the ultimate all-around player, which helped him win Big East Player of the Year. McKay is 6'8" while Crowder stands 6'6", though both are power forwards at the college level. Crowder now plays meaningful minutes at small forward for the NBA's Dallas Mavericks.

    I expect McKay to be an immediate contributor and the probable starting power forward, while finishing third on the team with around 10 points per game. Once Otule, Gardner and Jamil Wilson graduate in the spring, McKay becomes the clear go-to-guy in the frontcourt and can make the leap in production that Crowder experienced as a senior.

Will Davante Gardner and Chris Otule Play Together?

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    Last season, Chris Otule and Davante Gardner averaged 39.2 minutes of playing time between the two of them. Otule and Gardner subbed each other in and out of games at center all season, other than the 0.8 minutes per game that neither was on the court (accounting for the end of blowouts).

    Only a handful of times did Otule and Gardner see the court together, the two matchups against Syracuse being the most memorable. Against Syracuse's devastating zone, Williams was able to place Gardner on the free-throw line and Otule in the paint, creating an effective inside-outside big man duo that could get the ball into the teeth of 'Cuse's zone. It obviously worked out better during the first of two matchups.

    Otule is a great defender and effort player. Gardner is a great low post scorer and passer. While I don't see the two playing tons of minutes together, mostly due to Marquette's already deep bench, I would like to see both players together on the court for a few minutes each game.

    Marquette has as much frontcourt depth as any team, which could allow Williams to go with a big lineup of Deonte Burton, Jamil Wilson, Gardner and Otule along with any of the point guards at a given time. If Gardner ends up being the starting power forward, then obviously the two will be on the court together at tipoff.