One era of Marquette Golden Eagles’ basketball ended in Boise last March, while another will take flight Friday at the Bradley Center. Six newcomers will take the court Friday night along with the rest of Buzz Williams’ roster as they get ready for a season full of mystery that will be solved as the season progresses.
Any talk of Marquette playing basketball past the first week of March is due to senior Lazar Hayward. Playing outside the spotlight for his first three years, the senior from Buffalo will finally get his chance to show off his talents as Marquette’s go-to player. At 6′6″, Hayward will see playing time at both forward positions and get touches on offense everywhere on the court.
With an unmeasurable heart, one can expect to see Hayward guarding the opponent’s best big man night in and night out.
Two other key pieces to Marquette’s puzzle this season are the oft-forgotten about seniors, Maurice Acker and David Cubillan. With Marquette sporting one of the youngest teams in the Big East, the two experienced-filled guards will surely carry the load early on while the youngsters get their feet wet. At the very least, the two senior guards give Buzz Williams some depth on an injury-plagued team.
One of last year’s biggest surprises was then-sophomore Jimmy Butler and the energy he provided off the bench. A summer full of jump shot practice with Hayward and maturing has Butler geared up for a leadership role on and off the court.
As one of the most efficient players in the country last season, Butler will need to be even more aggressive on the offensive end and continue his stellar defense. Buzz Williams has praised Butler, calling him the team’s best defender, but he will have to improve even more if Marquette is going to shut opponent’s big men down.
While it’s true that the injury bug strikes just about every team at some point in the season, it could not have happened at a worse time for then-freshman Chris Otule and then-sophomore Joe Fulce. The pair of 2008 newcomers missed significant action last season with injuries and, now fully healthy, are primed for comeback seasons.
Otule took a trip to Germany this summer, where he improved his confidence and postgame while Fulce rehabbed his knee and showed off his health with a stunning dunk contest performance in front of Vander Blue, Tarik Black, and the Marquette faithful at Marquette Madness.
Depth is the key to Marquette’s success this season and both Otule and Fulce have the potential to start and, at the very least, be contributors off the bench.
Marquette has a core of returning players that will keep Marquette in games early in the season, but the buzz on the Golden Eagles has been the arrival of six newcomers, five of whom will get their feet wet in Divison One Basketball for the first time on Friday.
Leading the way is junior Dwight Buycks who is expected to take on a major scoring role and log major minutes. The 6′2″ combo guard has impressed just about everyone who has seen him play and should start out of the gates for Marquette.
With a pretty jump shot and a knack for getting to the basket, it would not come as a surprise to see Buycks rank second in scoring this season behind Hayward. In Marquette’s exhibition blowout over MSOE Saturday, Buycks poured in 15 points and played solid defense.
Right behind Buycks in terms of importance this season is true freshman Jeronne Maymon, a local product from Madison Memorial High School. The 6′7″ power forward is sure to see big minutes as part of a frontcourt rotation, and the DeJuan Blair look-a-like is hoping to crash the boards at all costs. His range extends out to the three point line, but look for Maymon to do his damage inside, bullying the opposition to get rebounds.
Darius Johnson-Odom, DJO, has struggled with a nagging foot injury that kept him out about six weeks early in the fall. After being deemed ready for action, he re-aggravated the injury against MSOE, leaving a big question mark next to his name as to when he will be caught up. As Marquette’s best athlete available, the combo guard will be sorely missed if he is not healthy to start the year.
Erik Williams and Youssoupha Mbao are two projects that will see the court this season but not make a huge impact. Mbao, the 7′2″ center from Senegal will have to put on weight (215 pounds) and is still raw in talent. Williams, a Buzz Williams dream at 6′6″ and able to handle the ball, will struggle to see minutes with a frontcourt rotation including Butler, Maymon, Fulce, and Hayward.
However, he was arguably Marquette’s best recruit from last season and has the potential to bust out in the next couple of years.
Marquette has dropped off from last season, and as talented and as full of potential as the new recruits can be, it will be a struggle this year. Growing pains will happen and players will hit mental and physical walls at some point during the season. However, the unknown can be a good thing when gauging the ceiling that some of the newcomers have.
Combined with the senior leadership and talent of Hayward, and it’s anyone’s guess as to how Marquette could finish this season. Early predictions have them ranked 12th in the Big East, but it’s hard to tell when no one has seen almost half the roster play a D-1 game.
One thing is for sure: Marquette basketball has turned over a new leaf and the future looks bright for Buzz Williams and the Golden Eagles.