Marquette Basketball: Ranking the Best Golden Eagles from Buzz Williams Era

Ryan Curi@rcuri1Featured ColumnistDecember 21, 2013

Marquette Basketball: Ranking the Best Golden Eagles from Buzz Williams Era

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    Buzz Williams has been the head coach at Marquette for five-plus seasons after serving as Tom Crean's assistant for one year prior to Crean's departure to Bloomington, Ind. Over his head coaching career at Marquette, Williams has compiled a 129-58 (.690) record, including a 60-30 (.667) mark in Big East play.

    Williams has taken the Golden Eagles to five consecutive NCAA tournaments, winning eight March Madness matchups over that span. Twice Marquette has been knocked out in the Sweet 16, while last year's squad advanced to the Elite Eight before bowing out to Syracuse.

    This article will break down 12 players that Williams has coached during his tenure at MU, broken down into three segments. The first players listed were recruited by and played for Crean, but stayed at Marquette and played for Williams. The next group of four highlights players that were good players for Williams, but just short of making the final list. Finally, the final four are the quintessential Williams' players, all of whom were recruited and coached as warriors.

Inherited Players

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    Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal and Dominic James were Marquette's version of the "Three Amigos" during their time in Milwaukee. They were a three-headed monster in the backcourt, who notched scoring averages of 18.3, 19.8 and 11.0 points per game as seniors.

    The 5'11" James was a fan favorite, who was a star from the day he arrived at Marquette. Matthews, son of former Wisconsin great Wesley Matthews Sr. has turned into the best professional player. After not being drafted in the 2009 NBA draft, Matthews latched on with the Utah Jazz.

    After an impressive rookie season in the backcourt with Deron Williams, Matthews was given a megamillion-dollar contract with the Portland Trail Blazers. McNeal has gone from team to team, not finding his niche in the NBA yet. McNeal left Marquette as the school's all-time leading scorer, making his collegiate career the most impressive of the trio.

    Lazar Hayward often had to play bigger than his 6'6", 225-pound frame as he played power forward and center during his time as a collegiate athlete. Hayward is a current member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, though playing time has been limited for him. Hayward was one year younger than the backcourt trio, but averaged an impressive 16.3 points and 8.6 rebounds during that 2008-09 season.

Honorable Mention

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    Dwight Buycks played two seasons in Milwaukee following two seasons as a junior college player. As a senior, Buycks averaged 8.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.1 steals. Despite not having jaw-dropping numbers in college, Buycks has also found a home in the NBA. After being named MVP of the French A League in 2012-13, Buycks signed to play with the Toronto Raptors, where he is the backup point guard.

    Junior Cadougan, a fellow point guard, graduated from Marquette in 2013. As a senior, Cadougan averaged 8.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.1 steals, strikingly similar numbers to Buycks. Cadougan was a hard-nosed defender, but wasn't afraid to take the big shot, as evidenced by his buzzer-beating three-pointer to tie UConn last New Year's Day.

    Vander Blue's Marquette career was shortened by one season, though Blue's pursual of the NBA fell short in last year's NBA draft. After two mediocre seasons for Blue, who was a heralded recruit who had decommitted from Bo Ryan and Wisconsin to come to Marquette, he broke out as a senior. Last season, Blue averaged 14.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.0 steals and carried Marquette in back-to-back NCAA tournament victories with late-game heroics.

    Davante Gardner is one of two players on this slideshow that is still a member of Marquette basketball. Gardner was not highly sought-after following his prep career in Suffolk, Va., but has been an impact player for Williams since day one.

    Though Gardner has always served as the team's sixth man, he finished third on the team in scoring as a sophomore, second as a junior and leads the team in scoring this season with 14.4 points. He also pulls in a team-high 6.7 rebounds and is a dark horse for Big East Player of the Year should Marquette turn things around and win the league's inaugural season.

4) Chris Otule

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    Chris Otule has been at Marquette as long as Williams has been head coach there. As a sixth-year senior, Otule has battled through injuries even before arriving in Milwaukee. Otule is also completely blind in one eye, something Williams didn't learn about until after Otule enrolled at the school.

    Offensively, Otule is having his best season yet, averaging 8.1 points and 5.3 rebounds, while shooting 64.4 percent from the field. Defensively, Otule has averaged between 1.0 and 1.7 blocks in each of the past five seasons. At 6'11" and 275 pounds, Otule and Gardner have formed a great offensive-defensive/high-low duo in the MU frontcourt.

    While Otule's numbers certainly don't jump off the chart, he has been a mainstay and consistent player for this Golden Eagle program for six seasons. This prompted the university to honor Otule with a lifetime achievement award, even before he ever graduated from Marquette. Otule and Williams are synonymous, and while talent-wise he may fall short of most members of this list, it would feel wrong not adding him.

3) Jimmy Butler

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    Butler spent three seasons at Marquette following one season in junior college, and he served as Williams' first player that he both recruited and coached. Butler, now a starting shooting guard for the Chicago Bulls, was a first-round pick of the team in the 2011 NBA draft.

    Despite playing the wing in the NBA, Butler was considered a frontcourt player in Williams' system, despite checking in at 6'7" and 220 pounds. As a sophomore, Butler served as a backup behind the "Three Amigos," Hayward and Dwight Burke.

    Butler was a star as an upperclassman, highlighted by a senior campaign where he averaged 15.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.4 steals. While Butler was more of a defensive-minded player entering the NBA and during his rookie season, he has developed a nice outside shooting stroke, while continuing to be an always dangerous slasher and above-the-rim finisher.

2) Darius Johnson-Odom

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    Like Butler, Johnson-Odom went the junior college route for one season prior to arriving at Marquette. Johnson-Odom's scoring averages were 13.0, 15.8 and 18.3 over those three seasons, respectively. In his senior season, Johnson-Odom was a first team All-Big East selection.

    Though Johnson-Odom was a second-round pick in the 2012 NBA draft, after being waived by the Los Angeles Lakers, DJO decided to take his talents to China. Johnson-Odom stands 6'2" and weighs in at 215 pounds, and built like a brick wall. A natural scoring shooting guard, Johnson-Odom may have to transition to more of a ball-handling and distributing role to get a second chance in the NBA.

    During his junior and senior seasons, DJO led the Golden Eagles in scoring, despite current NBA players Buycks, Butler and Jae Crowder on that same roster. While Johnson-Odom's pro career isn't anywhere close to Butler's, his collegiate numbers were better and warrant the second position on this list.

1) Jae Crowder

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    Though Crowder's time at Marquette was shorter than Butler and Johnson-Odom's, he had the single best season of all three players, giving him the top slot on this list. Yet another JUCO transfer, Crowder spent two seasons on Williams' squad, highlighted by a Big East Player of the Year honor in 2011-12 as a senior.

    As a junior, Crowder averaged 11.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.9 blocks in 27.6 minutes. Those figures jumped to 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.0 blocks in 32.9 minutes as a senior, proving Crowder to be the ultimate do-everything team player.

    Crowder is also built like a horse and played bigger than his 6'6", 235-pound frame would indicate. For that, Crowder was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in the second round of the 2012 NBA draft. Though his numbers pale in comparison to his collegiate stats, Crowder has found himself starting games as a Maverick. Between Butler, DJO and Jae, it was nearly a toss-up, but Crowder's combination of NCAA and NBA success helped him leapfrog the other two, making him the ultimate Buzz Williams coached player.